Take Charge

One concern among immigration advocates is that families won't apply for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits if the proposed rule change goes through.

With Donald Trump’s apparent war on non-white immigrants in full swing, fear in Monterey County’s Latino immigrant community is palpable. Families have backed into the shadows by keeping children out of school and away from social service programs. Now a proposed federal rule change could keep even more kids away from health, nutrition and housing programs, according to immigration advocates.

The rule has to do with “public charge,” a term used by the federal government for individuals who rely on government support. For decades the public charge rule has been used to deny green cards or entry to immigrants who will likely rely heavily on federal funds. It did not previously include programs like Medi-Cal, food stamps and Section 8 housing, but on Oct. 10 the Department of Homeland Security announced it was poised to include those programs.

“This is one more thing adding to the fear of connecting with community resources,” says Katy Castagna, president and CEO of United Way Monterey County. She predicts legal immigrants seeking a path to citizenship will disenroll from programs hoping to not jeopardize their immigration status, but risk kids’ health in the process. It also disproportionately penalizes the poor and keeps families from improving their economic status, Castagna says.

A study conducted by The Children’s Partnership and Lucile Packard Foundation-sponsored kidsdata.org estimates that thousands of children in Monterey and San Benito counties could be disenrolled from Medi-Cal and SNAP (food stamps) as a result. Researchers report that at 15 percent disenrollment from Medi-Cal – their most conservative estimate – more than 6,000 children could lose services. Their high estimate, 35 percent disenrollment, would impact more than 15,000 children.

The study was part of an effort to encourage public comment to Homeland Security by a Dec. 10 deadline. The Monterey County Board of Supervisors voted on Nov. 6 to oppose the change, as have other counties worried about social and economic impact.

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