August 12, 2019

Recent Change in Federal Public Charge Rule Unfairly Targets Immigrant Families and Could Cause 'Chilling Effect' for 1.6 Million Floridians.

This post was last updated on December 8, 2021. As new policies are announced, FPI will update this page.

As Florida’s response to COVID-19 takes front and center, concern grows for low-income families who struggle to take precautions against the spread of the virus. Although Congress has passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to address, at least in part,  the public health crisis and economic fallout from COVID-19, many barriers continue to keep struggling families from accessing the assistance they need during the pandemic. As Florida initiates policies implementing the Act and addressing other barriers to the safety net, FPI will update this form. When available, hyperlinks are provided to agency documents or statements that provide greater detail  about the new policy.

On March 22, 2020, FPI and 44 other organizations sent a letter to Governor DeSantis, leadership in the Legislature and agency heads to urge action on 47 specific policy changes to reduce unnecessary barriers for Florida’s safety net programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. See the letter here.

updated August 20, 2019

ORLANDO, FL – Despite strong dissent reflected in the comments over a quarter of a million Americans and organizations submitted, the Trump Administration released a troubling “public charge” rule today that will have drastic effects on Florida families. The rule, which is set to be published Wednesday, will take effect October 15. Florida Policy Institute (FPI) strongly opposes this decision.

At present, immigrants applying for lawful permanent resident (“green card”) status are assessed on a variety of factors to determine if they could become a perceived financial burden to the economy, known as a “public charge.” An applicant’s likelihood to use — or current use of — a narrow list of public benefits is one factor that can deny someone a green card.

Now, some immigrants seeking lawful permanent resident (LPR) status who receive — or are expected to receive — even a modest amount of supports through public safety net programs will be rejected. This includes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), most Medicaid plans, Section 8 housing vouchers and rental assistance, and income maintenance programs. This week’s Department of Homeland Security rule change represents a major expansion in the type of public benefits immigration officers consider when determining whether or not an individual is deemed a “public charge.”

Moreover, the rule change will — for the first time ever — make a specific income threshold a central issue in immigration decisions. For example, having an individual annual income of under $15,613 or under $32,188 for a family of four would be weighed negatively and could lead to a denial. In effect, this new rule sends a message to immigrants that only the middle-class or wealthy need apply.

Last October, FPI released a report examining the rule’s projected impact, with a focus on 1.6 million Floridians who may experience a “chilling effect”— those too afraid to apply for or remain on public assistance for fear of its impact on their hopes for citizenship. While the new rule states it “does not create any penalty or disincentive for past, current, or future receipt of public benefits,” FPI’s analysis and numerous firsthand accounts contradict this.

“Millions of families in the U.S. rely on critical poverty reduction programs like Medicaid and SNAP, and now the Administration wants to use them as a disqualifier for people looking to make a better life for themselves and their families in America,” said Sadaf Knight, CEO of FPI. “The rule will cause fear and confusion, ultimately driving families and children deeper into poverty.”

Florida Policy Institute is an independent, nonpartisan and nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing state policies and budgets that improve the economic mobility and quality of life for all Floridians.

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