Press Release: Radical Revised Public Charge Regulation Will Punish Lawfully Present Immigrant Families in Mississippi, Increasing Hunger and Poor Health

Radical Revised Public Charge Regulation Will Punish Lawfully Present Immigrant Families 

in Mississippi, Increasing Hunger and Poor Health 

Jackson, Miss. —Today, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published its new “public charge” regulation, which aims to sow fear and reap chaos, cruelty, and increased racial and economic injustices in health, food security, and poverty for immigrant families in Mississippi and throughout the land of the free. DHS’ final rule strikes mere days after the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s morally reprehensible raids in Mississippi, which ignited a massive humanitarian crisis.

The finalized regulation, which is scheduled to go into effect October 15, marks a radical and deeply flawed departure from longstanding U.S. immigration policy and professed American values. In a bold act of administrative overreach, it aims to subvert Congress by punishing lawfully present immigrants and their families for accessing public benefits to which they remain entitled under federal law. It directs immigration officials to reject applications from people who wish to remain in or enter the U.S. if they have received—or are likely to receive in the future—most forms of Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), several forms of federal housing assistance, and cash benefits for income maintenance. It is designed to force lawfully present immigrant families who work hard, pay their taxes, and follow the rules to choose between participating in public programs that combat hunger, poor health, and poverty, and staying together.

Last winter, more than 260,000 faith leaders, lawmakers, health care and public health practitioners, Americans from all walks of life, and nonprofits including the Mississippi Center for Justice submitted comments to the Federal Register in overwhelming opposition to the Administration’s proposed public charge rule. 

 The Mississippi Center for Justice estimated that the public charge rule could cause as many as 73,808 noncitizen immigrants and their family members in Mississippi, including 22,722 children, to disenroll or forgo enrollment from vital health care, nutrition, and housing supports that they are eligible for under federal law. Immigrants of color could comprise 80 percent of the total population that will avoid public benefits because of the rule.

Since then, we bore witness to the proposed rule’s immediate and immense chilling effect on public benefit participation in Mississippi. Out of fear of internment, deportation, and family separation, countless lawfully present immigrants working for low wages are avoiding public programs such as Medicaid and SNAP to which they are legally entitled. As a result, many immigrant families, including citizen children, are grappling with severe unmet health care needs, hunger, and poverty. The Department of Homeland Security’s finalization of the public charge rule will feed a fire that is already burning in the Magnolia State.

The Mississippi Center for Justice condemns this latest attack in the Administration’s war on immigrants of color. We will continue to work with partners and allies in Mississippi and across the country to combat this immoral policy using every tool at our disposal.

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For more information or comment about the finalized public charge rule change, please contact Madeline Morcelle, Staff Attorney at the Mississippi Center for Justice, at mmorcelle@mscenterforjustice.org

 

About the Mississippi Center for Justice

The Mississippi Center for Justice is a nonprofit, public interest law firm committed to advancing racial and economic justice. Supported and staffed by attorneys, community leaders and volunteers, the Center develops and pursues strategies to combat discrimination and poverty statewide.

 

A Step Forward for Reentry and Food Security in Mississippi

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On April 16, Governor Phil Bryant signed H.B. 1352, the Criminal Justice Reform Act of 2019. H.B. 1352’s bipartisan reforms include a provision authored by the Mississippi Center for Justice, which opts out of a 1996 federal ban on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) eligibility for individuals with a drug felony conviction effective July 1. Mississippi is the 49th state to address the ban through legislation—a significant victory for reentry, food security, and racial, gender, and economic justice in our state.

Food security—the state in which all people at all times have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food—is essential to building healthy, equitable, and resilient communities. Yet in 2017, one in five Mississippians and one in four children statewide experienced food insecurity—the highest rates in the nation. SNAPis Mississippi’s first line of defense against this crisis. In December 2018, it helped 468,186 low-income Mississippians keep food on the table through a modest nutrition benefit of about $1.27 per person per meal, and provided workforce supports to help participants get back up on their feet. The gender wage gap and other economic injustices make women, especially single moms, disproportionately vulnerable to food insecurity compared to their male counterparts. As a result, low-wage women account for nearly two-thirds of all adult and senior SNAP participants nationwide.

Since 1996, the federal SNAP drug felony disqualification withheld this anti-hunger lifeline from the Mississippians who needed it most. A 2013 study found that 91 percent of individuals recently released from prison experienced food insecurity, and 37 percent went without eating for an entire day because they could not afford to purchase food. In states that lift the SNAP drug felony disqualification and among the non-drug felony offenders excluded from the ban, SNAP prevents hunger and provides workforce training to help people successfully reenter society and achieve self-sufficiency. Yet for 23 years, the federal SNAP disqualification has imposed a lifetime sentence of hunger, lost productivity, poor health, and even recidivism on Mississippians with a drug felony conviction. The federal ban exclusively punished people with drug-related felony convictions, including non-violent offenses such as possession. Many were convicted while struggling with a substance use disorder (e.g., opioid dependency) and before Mississippi established drug courts and other diversion programs.  Because of gender inequities in food insecurity and drug felony sentencing (women receive drug felony convictions at a higher rate than men), the lifetime ban disproportionately harms single moms and their children.

The odds are heavily stacked against low-wage women, single mothers, and other Mississippians who encounter our criminal justice system, but the Criminal Justice Reform Act of 2019’s provision that opts out of the federal drug felony ban on SNAP and TANF will alleviate some of their most urgent and unjust barriers to success. We are grateful to the bipartisan coalition of legislators and advocates who made this reform possible, laying a promising foundation for future policy efforts to turn the tide of racial, economic, and gender injustice in our state and build a healthier and more food secure Mississippi for all. 

Madeline Morcelle, JD, MPH, is a staff attorney at the Mississippi Center for Justice, where she focuses her legal and policy practice on cultivating healthy and just food access for all and protecting and strengthening public benefits.

 

 

 

Government Shutdown Threatens Federal Programs that put Food on the Table for Mississippi Families

On December 22, 2018, key parts of the federal government shut down as a result of leadership gridlock over President Trump’s request for 5 billion dollars in funding for a US-Mexico border wall. With no compromise in sight and the longest shut down in US history, 800,000 federal employees and nine different departments, including the Department of Agriculture (USDA) which is responsible for administering the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), continue to be affected. 

SNAP, the nation’s first line of defense against hunger, helps put food on the table for millions of low income Americans, including 537,000 Mississippians. If the government shutdown continues, 1 in 6 Mississippians could experience major food assistance cut backs. More than 75% of SNAP beneficiaries in MS are in families with children.

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On January 8th the USDA announced plans to help state agencies keep SNAP operational through February 2019 without cuts to benefits by encouraging states to make February benefits available by January 20th. For now, the USDA states that the program will operate as it would normally with the exception that February benefits will be issued early, on January 20th. Under the direction of the USDA, the Mississippi Department of Human Services (MDHS) plans to issue February benefits to some households by January 20th; however, households who have submitted SNAP recertification applications and have not been processed or approved by January 15th can expect their normal scheduled payment of benefits in February with no early issuance. With limited funds available after January 20th, MDHS indicated that they will continue to process applications as they are received and distribute funds based on availability of federal dollars. Families that receive payments on January 20th will not receive another payment until their normal scheduled distribution in March. Officials are encouraging clients to do their best to make their benefits last through February. 

Unfortunately, USDA’s commitment to fund SNAP benefits to recipients through February does not extend to retailers who did not have the opportunity to recertify with USDA prior to the shutdown. As a result of the lack of certification, 2500 retailers nationwide are unable to accept SNAP payments until the government re-opens. If the shutdown continues, delayed SNAP payments could place additional strain on local emergency food assistance providers, like food banks and food pantries, as well as negatively impact some 3600 SNAP retailers/business owners in Mississippi. 

The USDA does not have the authority to extend SNAP benefits in March without congressional action, putting thousands of Mississippi households at undue risk for hunger and hardship. Our congressional leaders have a responsibility re-open the government and ensure that millions of Americans (not just SNAP recipients) are not at risk for financial hardship and hunger. 

Ask your senator to go to Senate Majority Leader McConnell and the White House and demand the government re-open to stop the threat on federal programs that put food on the table for children and families in Mississippi. 

                  Cindy Hyde-Smith: (202) 224-5054

                  Roger Wicker: (202) 224-6253

Resources

USDA to Fund SNAP for February 2019, But Millions Face Cuts if Shutdown Continues

A Closer Look at Who Benefits from SNAP: State-by-State Fact Sheets

USDA Announces Plan to Protect SNAP Participants’ Access to SNAP in February

Kathryn Rehner is a policy associate with the Mississippi Center for Justice.