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Attorney General Bonta Co-Leads Multi-State Coalition Applauding New Federal Effort to Revise “Public Charges” Regulations | State of California – Department of Justice

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Highlights the substantial damage of the now obsolete 2019 public charge rule to be avoided when crafting the final rules

OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta and New York Attorney General Letitia James today led a coalition of 21 attorneys general in a comment letter applauding the efforts of the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to revise and put update federal regulations on “public charges”. The comment letter also highlights the substantial damage from the now defunct Public Charge Rule of 2019 (Rule of 2019) put forward by the previous administration that DHS should avoid in any final rule making. Unlike the 2019 rule, current regulatory priorities will help protect the health and safety of immigrant families, as well as our interconnected communities across the country.

“The pandemic has undeniably confirmed that the health of our communities is interconnected”, said Attorney General Bonta. “Protecting access to key public programs, including Medicaid, benefits us all. As we continue to fight this pandemic, we need working families to be able to retain the tools that help keep our health and economy running smoothly. I applaud the efforts of the Biden administration to ensure that public office regulations do not undermine critical state efforts to care for the well-being of our communities. Together, we defend a better future for all.

Long-standing federal government guidelines have defined a “public office” as a person who is primarily and permanently dependent on either public cash assistance for income maintenance or institutional long-term care at government expense. Under US Immigration and Nationality law, a non-national who may become a public office is generally inadmissible to the United States and ineligible to become a lawful permanent resident. The previous administration sought to broaden the definition of a public charge by stating that the use of additional government programs is grounds for such a determination, including the use of health care through Medi-Cal or Medicaid funded by federal government nutrition and food support through CalFresh or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Section 8 housing assistance. Following court rulings across the country blocking the rule of 2019, the federal government officially rescinded the rule in March 2021. It is important to note that current rule-making efforts by the federal government recognize that the health and safety of all of our communities are interconnected, particularly in the amid the current COVID-19 pandemic. Given the size of the immigrant community in California, the state has a significant interest in any final regulation of public charges. California is home to more than 10 million immigrants, and half of all children in the state have an immigrant parent.

In the comment letter, the coalition states:

  • Public office policy must be consistent with its well-established meaning and the subsequent expansion of public benefits by Congress;
  • DHS should avoid dissuasive effects on the use of public services when promulgating a policy on public charges;
  • The 2019 rule has hindered and hampered public health responses to the pandemic, and DHS exemptions related to COVID-19 were insufficient;
  • The 2019 rule also hampered states’ ability to provide effective economic relief during the COVID-19 crisis;
  • DHS should seek to avoid unnecessary costs to operations and state agencies; and
  • Any benefits that DHS considers in a public burdens analysis should be limited, clearly identified, and not undermine the interests of states in promoting public health and welfare.

In filing the letter of comment, California and New York are joined by Attorneys General from Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, from Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and the District of Columbia.

A copy of the comment letter is available here.

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