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Connecticut Advocates Condemn New 'Public Charge' Restrictions On Immigrant Assistance

Frankie Graziano
Connecticut Public Radio
Food bank advocates say if people turn away from SNAP benefits, their resources will be quickly overwhelmed.

Connecticut’s Attorney General said Wednesday he’s joining New York and Vermont in bringing a lawsuit against the Trump administration over immigrants’ access to public benefits because the government’s actions are damaging to this state’s economy and communities. 

The administration says it will extend and enforce a rule that allows immigration officials to take into account whether an applicant for a Green Card or citizenship has previously used public assistance.

Currently, officials can deny someone’s application for a change in status if they are reliant on public benefits as their “primary means of subsistence.”

Now the administration has announced its intent to change that rule to include people who have received any level of assistance for 12 months in the last three years.

The Trump administration said the change is meant to ensure that legal immigrants to this country are “self sufficient.”

Attorney General William Tong said the announcement could affect the decisions of up to 200,000 people in Connecticut, who may choose to no longer use SNAP, or housing assistance or Medicaid services, because of the potential impact on their immigration status.

“This is entirely about a profound, and far reaching and very damaging attack on Connecticut, and our economy and our communities,” he told a press conference in Hartford. “Healthcare, housing, food, all of those things potentially off the table, because you’re afraid.”

Advocates who joined Tong at a Wednesday press conference said they are already seeing a chilling effect on people’s uptake of assistance programs.

Nichelle Mullins, CEO of Charter Oak community health center said in the last year, she’s seen a six percent shift of patients moving away from Medicaid, and instead paying for their medical care out of pocket.

“And many of them have done that because they are fearful,” she said. “This proposed public charge rule will directly impact patient care.”

Jason Jacubowski, CEO of Foodshare Connecticut said his organization serves 118,000 people who are food-insecure in Hartford and Tolland counties.

He said there is no way that private charity through food banks can take the place of the SNAP, the government food stamps program, if people are fearful of using public assistance.

“SNAP is absolutely the first line of defense against hunger in this country,” he said. “Neither Foodshare nor any other food bank in America has the food to be able to cover what people would lose from not being able to have access to SNAP.”

He also spoke of his own family history as the descendant of Polish immigrants.

“If this were the law of the land when my grandfather was growing up in poverty in New Britain in the 1920s, he would not have survived,” he said. “It’s not that he wouldn’t have thrived -- he would not have survived.”

Some raised the possibility that the wider community might also suffer if immigrants are forced off of public assistance programs that they need.

For instance, many school districts in the state can access federal funds to provide free school lunches for all students, if at least 40 percent of their populations are eligible for SNAP.

Robin Lamott Sparks, the director of End Hunger Connecticut said she foresees a ripple effect. “Families will move their children off SNAP -- those school districts could lose free lunches which will hurt children are fully citizens and whose families are not affected by these rules at all.”

Chris George from IRIS, Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services in New Haven. said his 14 years in charge of that organization have given him perspective on the immigrant experience.

“I’ve learned a lot about why people come to this country. They don’t come for food stamps or healthcare or housing assistance,” he said. “They come for safety, for freedoms, for our democracy, and they come to work hard.

“I pick people up at the airport, and before we’ve even arrived at their apartment they’re asking me -- when can I start working?”

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