Attorney General Bonta Co-Leads Multistate Coalition Applauding New Federal Effort to Revise ‘Public Charge’ Regulations

Friday, October 22, 2021
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Highlights substantial harms of now-defunct 2019 Public Charge Rule to avoid in final rulemaking

OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta and New York Attorney General Letitia James today led a coalition of 21 attorneys general in a comment letter applauding the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) efforts to revise and update federal “public charge” regulations. The comment letter also highlights the substantial harms of the now-defunct 2019 Public Charge Rule (2019 Rule) put forward by the previous administration that DHS should avoid in any final rulemaking. In contrast to the 2019 Rule, the current rulemaking priorities will help protect the health and safety of immigrant families, as well as our interconnected communities across the country.

“The pandemic undeniably confirmed that the health of our communities is interconnected,” said Attorney General Bonta. “Protecting access to key public programs — including Medicaid — benefits all of us. As we continue to battle this pandemic, we need working families to be able to retain the tools that help keep our health and economy firing on all cylinders. I welcome the Biden Administration’s efforts to ensure public charge regulations do not undermine critical state efforts to care for the welfare of our communities. Together, we’re standing up for a brighter future for all.”

Longstanding guidance by the federal government has defined a “public charge” as a person who is primarily and permanently dependent on either public cash assistance for income maintenance or institutional long-term care at the government’s expense. Under the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act, a noncitizen who is likely to become a public charge is generally inadmissible to the United States and ineligible to become a lawful permanent resident. The previous administration sought to expand the definition of a public charge by declaring that the use of additional government programs constitutes grounds for such a determination, including the use of healthcare through federally-funded Medi-Cal or Medicaid, nutrition and food support through CalFresh or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Section 8 housing assistance. Following court decisions across the country blocking the 2019 Rule, the federal government formally vacated the rule in March 2021. Importantly, the current advance rulemaking efforts by the federal government recognize that the health and safety of all of our communities are interconnected, particularly in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Given the size of the immigrant community in California, the state has a significant interest in any final public charge rulemaking. California is home to more than 10 million immigrants and half of all children in the state have an immigrant parent.

In the comment letter, the coalition asserts:

  • Public charge policy should be consistent with its well-settled meaning, and Congress's subsequent expansion of public benefits;
  • DHS should avoid chilling effects on public benefit usage when promulgating public charge policy;
  • The 2019 Rule harmed and impeded public health responses to the pandemic, and DHS' exemptions related to COVID-19 were insufficient;
  • The 2019 Rule also interfered with the states' ability to provide effective economic relief during the COVID-19 crisis;
  • DHS should seek to avoid unnecessary costs to state operations and agencies; and
  • Any benefits DHS considers in a public charge analysis should be limited, clearly identified, and not undermine the interests of states in promoting public health and welfare.

In filing the comment letter, California and New York are joined by the attorneys general of Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

A copy of the comment letter is available here.

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