DHS Public Charge Proposed Rulemaking Threatens Economic Vitality of Cities

On Thursday, November 29, the National League of Cities submitted comments in response to the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) notice of proposed rulemaking to expand the definition of a “public charge.” NLC has been active on the public charge issue for many years, including engaging with other state and local government organizations on the impact of the current proposed changes. At City Summit in Los Angeles, language was added to the 2019 National Municipal Policy specific to public charge in anticipation of this proposed change from the administration.

Public charge has long been part of U.S. immigration law.  Under Section 212(a)(4) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), a noncitizen seeking initial admission to the United States, or seeing to adjust status to permanent resident, can be deemed inadmissible if is determined that they would be primarily dependent on the government to support themselves and their family.

The proposed changes, as laid out in the Federal Register, create a new definition of “public charge” from an immigrant “likely to become primarily dependent on the government for subsistence” to an immigrant “who receives one or more public benefits.” Specifically, current benefits considered include cash (Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and state and local cash assistance programs) and long-term care (i.e. institutionalization at the government’s expense). The proposed changes would greatly expand the benefits considered during public charge determination to include most Medicaid programs, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps), Medicare Part D Low Income Subsidy and housing assistance (public housing, Section 8 vouchers and rental assistance).

The proposed changes would have a direct negative impact on the economic vitality of our communities, both to local businesses and the workforce, and would endanger the health and well-being of our residents. Businesses and service providers in our cities depend on the talent and labor of immigrants, and local economies depend on these businesses. Access to public benefits provides a critical path to economic mobility and security for many residents in our communities, including immigrant families. Further restricting access to these benefits would impede an immigrant’s ability to reach their full economic potential, severely limit the ability of farmers and local business to hire workers, and cause long-lasting harm to local economies. Providing access to Medicaid, Medicare, SNAP, housing and other public assistance programs to immigrants reduces burdens on safety-net hospitals, eases the strain on local food pantries, and enables farmers, retailers and businesses to hire the workforce they need to improve our economy.

The resulting outcome of this proposed rule is sharply at odds with the work we as city leaders do every day to build thriving communities across the nation. We oppose further expansion of the public charge definition that would preempt cities from offering services to all residents in their communities.

We encourage cities to also submit their own comments on these proposed changes and to oppose further expansion of the public charge definition that would preempt cities from offering services to all residents in their communities. The deadline for submission of comments is December 10th and can be made here.

About the Authors: Yucel (“u-jel”) Ors is the program director of public safety and crime prevention at the National League of Cities. Follow Yucel on Twitter at @nlcpscp.




Stephanie Martinez-Ruckman is the Program Director for Human Development at the National League of Cities. Follow Stephanie on Twitter @martinezruckman.