Public Charge Rule Affecting Public Health

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WESLACO – Local health officials report an unintended consequence to a new rule affecting those requesting legal status adjustments.

The new “public charge” rule that will soon go into effect is affecting public health.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ acting director explained it's based on a misinterpretation of the rule.

Rio Grande Valley residents go to Nuestra Clinica del Valle knowing it's a place they can receive free or reduced health care services.

Lately, some are missing appointments.

Graciela Castillo, an employee of the social work department, explained, "That's my department, we schedule appointments for patients. And they'll say, 'will that count against me?'"

Castillo is a social worker at the clinic where patients are concerned with the public charge rule.

USCIS created the rule restricting what public benefits will make them consider an applicant for a green card or certain visa as a public charge. That will count against them in their application.

Many residents with pending applications are fearing that taking their families to receive medical attention will count against them.

So, they're not going.

USCIS Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli explained there's a misunderstanding.

"We still have a communication challenge that we’ve been focusing on to try to make sure people who do qualify for benefits Congress says they have a right to, what is covered by public charge and what is not,” said Cuccinelli.

Certain things won't count against their applications with USCIS.

"Things like school lunches were removed. WIC is out. CHIP, healthcare for children, is excluded and the list goes on," he explained.

A lack of comprehension of this over 800 page rule leads to rumors circulating among clients such as Maria Guzman.

She says, "I've heard people say they can't get their documents if they are receiving CHIP or food stamps."

She's been going to the clinic for 15 years.

Families with U.S. born children are too fearful to claim benefits they are legally entitled to receive.

These questions get back to Castillo at the social work department.

She says clients will ask, "'Can we come? Are you going to ask us about our residency, our legal status?' And we do but to see if they're going to qualify for the referrals we're going to make if they will require further assistance.”

A social security number is not required to get help at Nuestra Clinica del Valle. Any information they collect is private.

It is not shared with government agencies like Immigration and Customs Enforcemet.

They offer the following services: internal medicine, family medicine, pediatric services, nutrition, counseling or help with exams.

Pain brought Guzman to the clinic.

She explained, "What happens is that I'm having problems with the heel of my foot."

An expensive outside quote for an X-ray forced her to wait it out.

"I went to a particular doctor. I went to go get some studies done, the ones I'm getting now here, and they were going to charge me a lot. So, I just put up with the pain and waited to come here,” she said.

The cost for her X-ray went down by about 83%.

In a places such as Hidalgo County, where the uninsured rate is about 31%, every penny counts.

The final charge rule is over 800 pages long, but the agency created a short list of what counts and will not count as a public charge.

The rule is set to go into effect October 15.


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