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Sharon Touw, Grace McCormack, David U. Himmelstein, Steffie Woodhandler, and Leah Zallman. (2021). Immigrant Essential Workers Likely Avoided Medicaid And SNAP Because Of A Change To The Public Charge Rule. Health Affairs, 40(7).


During the COVID-19 pandemic in the US, essential workers have provided health care, food, and other necessities, often incurring considerable risk. At the pandemic’s start, the federal government was in the process of tightening the “public charge” rule by adding nutrition and health benefits to the cash benefits that, if drawn, could subject immigrants to sanctions (for example, green card denial). Census Bureau data indicate that immigrants accounted for 13.6 percent of the population but 17.8 percent of essential workers in 2019. About 20.0 million immigrants held essential jobs, and more than one-third of these immigrants resided in US states bordering Mexico. Nationwide, 12.3 million essential workers and 18.9 million of their household members were at risk because of the new sanctions. The rule change (which was subsequently revoked) likely caused 2.1 million essential workers and household members to forgo Medicaid and 1.3 million to forgo Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program assistance on the eve of the pandemic, highlighting the potential of immigration policy changes to exacerbate health risks.