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


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 Torres (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.”

Last month, Torres delivered a similar letter to acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf 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 Jayapal (Wash.) and Mark Pocan (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.

Tags Chad Wolf Coronavirus Mark Pocan Mick Mulvaney Mike Pence Norma Torres Pramila Jayapal public charge

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