An estimated 75,000 immigrants living in New York legally who qualify for benefits like food stamps could be forced to choose between that help and pursuing their permanent residency under President Trump’s proposed “public charge” rule change, city officials told the News.
“For us, as an administration, this is yet again another attack on immigrants, particularly low- and middle-income immigrants — who are in some cases eligible for these benefits and able to receive them,” Immigrant Affairs Commissioner Bitta Mostofi said. “And in other [cases] might, in the future, have to choose between access to food and healthcare and housing and obtaining stabilized immigration status.”
The rule was proposed by the Department of Homeland Security as a cost cutting measure and a way to promote self-sufficiency, but the Mostofi said it could end up depriving immigrants of desperately needed services.
The proposal would dramatically expand the kinds of public assistance that can count against certain categories immigrants when they apply for a green card — including SNAP food stamps. The rules do not apply to certain categories of immigrants, like refugees, those granted asylum or those who already have legal permanent resident status.
But the city estimates there are about 75,000 immigrants in the city right now who qualify for social service benefits and have an immigration status that would force them to make a choice between the social safety net and a pathway to permanent residency if the rule is enacted. Not all of those 75,000 immigrants have currently opted to take the social services they qualify for, the city said.
The proposed rule would also greatly expand other factors that could endanger a person’s green card application — including their age, whether they are sick and if so if they have health insurance, their household size and their income level. There are another 400,000 immigrants in New York City who could some day be eligible for a green card and could be turned down based on those factors, according to the city’s analysis.
“In total, that’s about 475,000 individuals who might in the near future or prospectively seek to stabilize their status, and could be subject to this test, and based on the factors outlined both in terms of benefit eligibility as well as that further analysis, could be found ineligible,” Mostofi said.
But the ramifications could rapidly spread beyond immigrants who are actually directly affected by the order — to immigrants whose status would not be threatened by receiving benefits but who may stop getting them out of fear.
Currently, there are 220,000 New York City residents who are not citizens but are here legally and receive SNAP food stamps, cash assistance, or both. Another 54,000 immigrants here legally receive Supplemental Security Income or the state supplemental to SSI.
The city estimates that 20% of that population would withdraw from their benefits if the rule went into effect, Human Resources Commissioner Steve Banks said, including many who would be eligible to continue getting them without hurting their immigration status.
That would translate into an annual loss of $235 million in direct funding from the federal government to the city for SNAP, cash assistance, SSI and the state supplement, Banks said. But it would also result in the loss of another $185 million a year in economic activity — because every dollar spent on food stamps results in an $1.79 in economic activity, Banks said.
“That’s not to even mention the health impact of people who, in fear, give up their receipt of benefits and then suffer what will clearly be an absolute adverse health consequence,” Banks added.
He emphasized all the people at risk of losing or withdrawing from their benefits are here legally — and noted that undocumented people cannot get such benefits.
“There’s a purposeful attempt to create confusion with the notion that people who don’t have legal status here are receiving benefits — that’s not the case, and this is aimed at the people that are here with a permissible immigration status who have been entitled to basic assistance to feed their children, to preserve their health and to keep a roof over their head for years, and people who are part of the fabric of the City of New York,” Banks said.
Banks and Mostofi both emphasized that the rule has not been adopted yet — and that if it is adopted, it will not be retroactive, so they cautioned that immigrants should not withdraw from their benefits. Those with questions about their eligibility can visit NYC.gov/PublicCharge for more information, and can call the Americans Hotline, operated by Catholic Charities, at 1-800-566-7636 from 9 AM to 8 PM, Monday to Friday.
After a 60 public comment period, the rule is reevaluated with any new information before it becomes final.
Both officials also said the city would work to stop the rule change from happening.
“We’re going to fight this with everything we’ve got,” Mostofi said.
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