Monday, March 8, 2021

Chilling effects of public charge rule extend to COVID testing and vaccination

Immigrant communities are undertesting and undervaccinating for COVID-19, even as the essential workers among them become eligible under state priorities.

The story is at least partly one of government mistrust. Ever since the USCIS began discussing a redefinition of public charge to make inadmissible immigrants who draw on public benefits to which they are legally entitled, there has been a chilling effect on the use of benefits such as food stamps and Medicaid. The effects could be seen even before the rule went into effect and continued while copious litigation was wending its way through the courts. (Update: the rule went into effect on February 24, 2020. The Biden Administration is reviewing the rule and will report on whether to rescind or revise the rule in April 2021).

The prescription for increasing testing begins with building trust within immigrant communities. For example, government officials need to correct the misperception that seeking a coronavirus test could jeopardize their efforts to obtain a visa — which is not true. Additional barriers to testing include the financial worry that a worker would lose income if forced to stop working for two weeks or more due to a positive test. As for vaccination, some are concerned about the potential cost, especially for workers who lack health insurance, though the vaccine is free for everyone. Still others are skeptical of vaccine effectiveness or about adverse reactions. This article has additional suggestions on promoting public health for immigrant workers and thawing the chilling effects of the public charge rule.


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