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Houston Health Officials Say Proposed Public Charge Rules Threaten City’s Health

Rules proposed by the Trump administration would discourage immigrant families from using public benefits.

National WIC Association/Facebook

The City of Houston Health Department is voicing opposition against proposed Trump administration rules that would discourage immigrants from accessing public benefits, including health care.


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In a letter to the Department of Homeland Security, Houston Health Department leadership urged immigration officials not to implement proposed rules.

The proposed rules would make getting a visa harder for immigrants determined likely to use certain public benefits.

Experts believe proposed rules are likely to cause a chilling effect; immigrant families would drop out of programs like Medicaid, food stamps (SNAP) and other programs fearing it could negatively impact their legal status.

That has city officials worried since immigrant families already have limited access to care.

“If you put fear into people so that they won't even take care with the assets that we have available, the situation's just going to get much worse and there's going to be a human price to be paid, and there's going to be a worse financial price to be paid, too, so it's a lose-lose proposition,” said Houston Health Authority Dr. David Persse.

Persse said, if the rules go through, to expect a number of negative impacts on public health: less people will access preventative care (leading to more hospitalizations and, thus, a higher burden on the taxpayer), more outbreaks of diseases that could be prevented by vaccines, an increase in preventable deaths and more malnourished children.

“The fear and confusion already felt by millions of immigrant families due to escalating anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies would be worsened by this proposed rule, regardless of whether they are technically subject it. For example, Houston's WIC (Women, Infants & Children) enrollment has decreased by more than 20 percent since the November 2016 election,” Dr. Persse wrote in the official letter, joined by Houston Health Director Stephen Williams.

Along with the official letter, the City of Houston is also urging people to file comments on proposed rules with the federal government before the December 10 deadline. Comments can be made through the City of Houston here.