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Chris Bernard: Don’t let fear and misunderstanding surrounding the new Public Charge rule allow families to go hungry

Chris Bernard: Don’t let fear and misunderstanding surrounding the new Public Charge rule allow families to go hungry

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On Monday, a change in a federal immigration rule took effect; the change affects relatively few families but the confusion could impact many more.

The change expands the “Public Charge” rule to allow immigration officials to factor an individual’s use of certain public benefits against them when determining whether or not to grant permanent residency or reentry into the country. You may think this sounds like a great idea or, like me, you may have concerns about the impact this will have on vulnerable citizens who may forgo food, health care and other basic needs in the name of keeping their dreams of being a U.S. citizen alive.

No matter where you stand, the details are confusing, and this is affecting families to whom it doesn’t apply. Help us share the facts and keep families fed.

It does not apply to U.S. citizen children of immigrant parents, citizen family members seeking to sponsor someone, refugees, asylum seekers, T or U visa holders, VAWA petitioners or special juvenile immigrants.

It does not apply to WIC, Medicare Part D (prescriptions), Medicaid for children under 21, pregnant women, emergency services or postpartum women within 60 days of giving birth, free and reduced school breakfast and lunch, Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Head Start, energy assistance, use of food banks or shelters, or free after-school or summer meals.

The rule still only applies to applicants adjusting their immigration status to Lawful Permanent Resident, Lawful Permanent Residents seeking to reenter the U.S. after 180 consecutive days abroad and visa applicants.

The rule still considers whether applicants have used Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or Social Security’s Supplemental Security Income within the three years before applying. It now also considers whether applicants participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, public housing and non-emergency Medicaid, but these programs will only be considered if used on or after Monday.

Confused yet? This is the challenge with the rule. Let’s not allow confusion to impact families unnecessarily. Most people who are subject to the new rule are not eligible for these benefits anyway.

We can all do our part to alleviate the fear and confusion by knowing the absolutes. It absolutely does not apply to use of school meal programs, after-school or summer meal programs, accessing charitable resources, WIC, early education programs like Head Start, or children’s health insurance either through CHIP or Medicaid. Armed with facts, we can prevent countless families from going hungry, avoiding crucial medical treatment or dropping out of early childhood education programs needlessly.

Hunger Free Oklahoma and our partners, including the Community Service Council and YWCA Tulsa, are working to educate as many people and organizations as we can about the facts. We should all understand which public programs are included in the rule and who the rule applies to so that we can dispel fear and myths and make sure our friends, neighbors, congregations and families are making informed decisions.

This rule took effect on Monday. The best thing we can all do now is make sure everyone is equipped with accurate information so no one is going hungry or sick out of fear.

You don’t need to memorize this, either. You can access a simple guide at csctulsa.org/public-charge/.

Chris Bernard is executive director of Hunger Free Oklahoma.


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Editorial Pages Editor

I'm the editorial pages editor of the Tulsa World and a political columnist. A fourth-generation Oklahoman, I previously served as the World’s city editor for 13 years and as a reporter at the state Capitol of four years. Phone: 918-581-8308

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