Federal Court Blocks “Public Charge” Rule Due to COVID-19

On July 29, 2020, a federal court issued a nationwide injunction temporarily blocking the administration’s application of the controversial “public charge” rule during the COVID-19 national public health emergency.

Litigation challenging the “public charge” rule has been pending since October 2019, but the Supreme Court had allowed the administration to apply the rule while those lawsuits proceeded.  (Maine is a party to one of the pending lawsuits challenging the rule.)

The public charge rule has resulted in immigrants, even those who have had residency and have paid taxes for years and who are eligible for public benefits, being afraid to access medical care and other public health and food programs to help them stay healthy and safe due to fears and confusion around the rule.

The federal court found that

Plaintiffs provide ample evidence that the Rule deters immigrants from seeking testing and treatment for COVID-19, which in turn impedes public efforts in the Governmental Plaintiffs’ jurisdictions to stem the spread of the disease. Doctors and other medical personnel, state and local officials, and staff at nonprofit organizations have all witnessed immigrants refusing to enroll in Medicaid or other publicly funded health coverage, or forgoing testing and treatment for COVID-19, out of fear that accepting such insurance or care will increase their risk of being labeled a “public charge.”

COVID-19 has increased economic pressures on low-income immigrants. During the public health emergency, it’s imperative that everyone in the U.S. have access to healthcare and financial and health supports needed to stay housed, safe, and healthy, even if that means turning to government benefits.

The court’s injunction should help reassure immigrants, who data shows are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 as they often work in “essential jobs” and in jobs where working from home is not an option, that they are not risking their or their families’ immigration status if they seek out the help they need.

However, the government is likely to appeal the decision.  If it does, it will be putting the health of everyone, not just immigrants, at higher risk of COVID-19.