Public Charge rule for immigrants could be costly for Connecticut

An estimated 200,000 legal immigrants in Connecticut and their children, many of whom are American citizens, could forgo food, health care and housing assistance as a result of the Trump administration's "Public Charge" rule that is scheduled to take effect Oct. 15, according to state Attorney General William Tong.

At a news conference Wednesday in Hartford, Tong, Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, health care providers and others described the rule's potential consequences for Connecticut and its economy.

"We're talking about people like my parents, who came here almost 50 years ago, and so many other immigrants," said Tong, the son of Chinese immigrants.

He has joined New York, Vermont and the City of New York to bring one of dozens of lawsuits filed against the new Trump administration rule. The Public Charge rule applies generally to people who have a visa, are applying for lawful permanent resident status or have lawful permanent resident status and are applying for citizenship.

Those who have used public programs such as food stamps, Medicaid and Section 8 housing assistance for a 12-month period in the last three years could be denied green cards or visas. Even those who potentially could use the programs could be punished.

The lawsuit, which was filed Tuesday in the Southern District of New York, predicts an increase in homelessness, food insecurity and undiagnosed and untreated medical issues that will "force state and local governments to bear severe financial and public health consequences."

Affected people include a single mother from West Hartford who works as a paraprofessional, Tong cited, and "the people who bag our groceries, clean office buildings and the bus drivers who are getting ready to take our kids to school in a couple of weeks."

"If you're a student, and you've come here and done everything right, and have great skills and are hardworking and we want you to stay, but if for some reason, things got tough and you needed food, the president of the United States would throw you out," Tong said.

Deirdre Gifford, commissioner of the state Department of Social Services, said federal "means tested" programs, such as Medicaid and SNAP, already have rigid restrictions for noncitizens, and that lawful permanent residents are required to be in the country at least five years before they are eligible.

Dr. Robert Dudley, a pediatrician from New Britain, said hundreds of pediatricians from around the country wrote letters in opposition of the Public Charge rule when it was first proposed last year. Nationally, it has already had a chilling effect, he said, with more than a million fewer families on Medicaid.

State health providers could lose an estimated $12 million in reimbursement, according to Tong.

Nichelle A. Mullins, chief executive of Charter Oak Health Centers, said 6 percent of Latino patients have already moved away from Medicaid to "self pay" status because they are fearful, and many are afraid to come into the center. The company's 18 community health centers serve 400,000 people in underserved and rural communities in Connecticut. She said as a result of the Public Charge rule, the company's reimbursement rate would be reduced and it would be forced to lay off people, even though the demand for services won't decrease.

School districts that now provide free or reduced-price lunches to all students through the National School Lunch Program may no longer be able to do so, because at least 40 percent of students in a district must qualify for public assistance, according to Tong.

Jason Jakubowski, president and chief executive officer of the Foodshare food bank in Hartford and Tolland counties, said the SNAP program, which is the first line of defense against hunger in the United States, has already been under attack by the Trump administration. SNAP provides 12 meals to every one that a food bank can offer, he said.

"Neither food share or any other food bank in America has the food to be able to cover what people would lose without access to SNAP," he said.

"If this (rule) were the law of the land when my grandfather (from Poland) was growing up in poverty in New Britain, he would not have survived," Jakubowski said. "We owe it to everybody who is coming to this country to take a stand."

Chris George, executive director of Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services, said people come to the Unites States for freedom and safety and work, not food assistance, health care and housing.

"They are hardworking and determined people who every now and then need a little extra help," he said. "To put them in that horrible position of having to decide between food and health care and their immigration status is cruel and unusual, and we have to stop it."  

Attorney Joseph J. Marino, executive director of New London's Immigration Advocacy and Support Center, said that an immigration officer in Hartford brought up the "public charge" issue for the first time this week when he went to court with a 35-year-old woman from Bogota, Colombia, who works at a convenience store. Because of her job, he said, she potentially could qualify for HUSKY or food stamps, and that could be used against her once the Public Charge rule goes into effect.

The rule identifies a series of factors, including age, health, household size, income, assets, debts and education and skill levels, that officials can use to determine whether immigrants are likely to need public assistance in the future.

"Even though she was working and has the legal right to work, she doesn't speak English and she doesn't have much education," Marino said. "These are two factors that the officer can weigh. If this interview was happening after October 15, my client could have been denied her green card."

Marino said the rule could end or drastically curtail family immigration for those without means.

"It also unabashedly discriminates against the young, the elderly and those less educated," he said. 

k.florin@theday.com

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