Dozens of Democrats raise concerns over 'public charge' rule and coronavirus response

Dozens of Democrats raise concerns over 'public charge' rule and coronavirus response
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More than 40 House Democrats signed a letter this week urging Vice President Pence to reconsider the administration’s enforcement of the “public charge” rule amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The rule, which critics have called a “wealth test” for immigrants, penalizes legal immigrants for using public assistance programs such as Medicaid. The Democratic lawmakers argued in their letter, spearheaded by Rep. Norma TorresNorma Judith TorresHouse Rules Committee approves remote voting during pandemic House Democrats push for virtual naturalization ceremonies in next coronavirus relief package House Democrats push for protections for health care workers in next aid package MORE (D-Calif.), that the rule could make symptomatic immigrants who can’t afford private health care hesitant to seek government-funded medical assistance, increasing the risk of spreading the virus.

“Everyone should have access to testing and treatment for coronavirus. The 'public charge' rule, however, is a deterrent for symptomatic individuals to seek medical testing and treatment,” the letter read. “Individuals infected with coronavirus who are left untested and untreated will risk spreading the disease in our communities, potentially furthering the spread of coronavirus in the United States.”

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Last month, Torres delivered a similar letter to acting White House chief of staff Mick MulvaneyMick Mulvaney12 things to know today about coronavirus Mulvaney: 'We've overreacted a little bit' to coronavirus The Memo: Trump agenda rolls on amid pandemic MORE and acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad WolfChad WolfHundreds of migrant children, teens deported under pandemic border policy: report Trump administration finalizes indefinite extension of coronavirus border restrictions   US-Mexico border restrictions extended to June 22 MORE during an all-member congressional briefing on the coronavirus.

The White House did not send an official response to that letter, according to Torres’s office.

Torres, a member of the New Democrat Coalition, has garnered support with signatures from a large portion of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus as well as both co-chairs of the Progressive Caucus: Reps. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalExpanding tax credit for businesses retaining workers gains bipartisan support House punts on FISA, votes to begin negotiations with Senate Democrats press OSHA official on issuing an Emergency Temporary Standard MORE (Wash.) and Mark PocanMark William PocanHouse punts on FISA, votes to begin negotiations with Senate House cancels planned Thursday vote on FISA Pelosi pulls vote on FISA bill after Trump veto threat MORE (Wis.).

“Trump’s public charge rule is deterring vulnerable immigrant communities from accessing care in the middle of a public health crisis,” Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said in a statement. “The Trump Administration should suspend this rule in its entirety and encourage all sick individuals—regardless of their immigration status—to come forward and receive health services to keep themselves and our communities safe.”

Since her first letter, the virus has spread throughout the U.S., with at least 761 confirmed cases and 27 deaths.

“Individuals with coronavirus who are untested may be your colleague who sits a few desks away, the cook preparing your food, the teacher to your children, or the home attendant who cares for your elderly parent,” the letter said. “At this critical time, the ‘public charge’ rule is a public health threat.”

--This report was updated at 2:01 p.m.