One-third of poor, immigrant families forgo public benefits

About 1 in 3 low-income immigrant families with children are going without public benefits like health coverage or food stamps because they’re worried it could cost them permanent residency, according to an analysis published Thursday by the left-leaning Urban Institute.

That’s an increase from just over 1 in 5 last year. According to the Washington think tank, low-income families were far more likely to skip out on such benefits compared with wealthier immigrant families. In 2019, roughly 15% of adults in low-income immigrant families said they or a family member didn’t enroll in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program because of the Trump administration’s so-called public charge rule, even though the rule didn’t go into effect until February.

More than 17% of adults in low-income immigrant families with children said they didn’t enroll in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for the same reason, and over 1 in 10 said they avoided housing subsidies. Some people reported they didn’t take part in programs that weren’t covered by the public charge rule because they were concerned it could affect their immigration status.

“Public program avoidance is particularly worrisome in families with children because the entire family could face financial hardships, psychological distress and problems accessing needed healthcare if they avoid critical benefit programs and their essential needs are not met,” the Urban Institute said.

Nearly 80% of adults surveyed didn’t know their children could enroll in Medicaid without affecting their parent’s legal status, even though more than 60% of them thought they had a good understanding of the policy.

Provider groups like the American Hospital Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics worry the policy will negatively affect public health and hurt their ability to care for millions of poor children and families. They also warned it would increase uncompensated care costs for providers because fewer patients will have health coverage.

The Supreme Court Thursday halted the Trump administration’s effort to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals—commonly known as DACA—a program designed by the Obama administration to prevent the deportation of immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. But it’s unclear how the ruling will affect enrollment in public assistance programs by people covered under DACA. The high court ruled that the administration tried to end the program without a good enough reason, but it didn’t weigh in on the merits of the program.

“Amid the COVID-19 pandemic that has underscored physician shortages and surging caseloads, DACA recipients have responded to the call by continuing to provide vital patient care. We are pleased that the Supreme Court has recognized that upholding a rollback of the DACA program would have reduced our nation’s healthcare capacity at a time when we can ill afford it,” American Medical Association President Dr. Susan Bailey said in a statement.

Hispanic women, immigrants and people with less education have been especially hard-hit by job losses during the COVID-19 outbreak because they’re more likely to work in the service sector. According to the nonpartisan Pew Research Center, Hispanic women experienced a 21% decline in employment through the end of May. Likewise, employment dropped 19% for immigrant workers compared with 12% among U.S. born workers.

Hispanic workers were also more likely than non-Hispanic workers to lose jobs among people born in the U.S. Many of them live with family members who weren’t born in the U.S., which could make them less willing to apply for public programs.

In a September report, the Census Bureau said the number of people without health insurance grew from 25.6 million in 2017 to 27.5 million in 2018, mainly because of a decline in Medicaid coverage.


Tags: covid-19, pandemic

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