Why enrollment in food stamp programs has plummeted

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Los Angeles County officials announced Wednesday they are seeing fewer immigrants enrolling in food assistance programs, as they are fearing it could hinder their chances of becoming a U.S. citizen or lead to deportation.

The CalFresh program supplies low-income families and individuals with an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card to purchase fresh food at participating stores and restaurants.

One major caveat: You must be a U.S. citizen and legal resident to qualify.

Officials claim that enrollment is down, with many fearing they would be labeled “public charge,” which is defined as “a non-U.S. citizen who is likely to become dependent on public assistance,” according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

While several factors play a role in determining eligibility, a person who is considered a public charge could be disqualified from becoming a U.S. citizen, and ultimately be deported to their homeland under Trump’s immigration laws.

“One of the barriers that we encounter is the misunderstanding of a public charge,” said Carlos Portillo, human services administrator for Los Angeles County’s Department of Public Social Services. “We have been conducting the CalFresh awareness for the last seven years, and this particular program is not considered public charge,” he added. “That’s one of the issues we’re trying to address.”

However, non-U.S. citizens who could classify as public charge are those needing cash assistance or requiring long-term care at the U.S. government’s expense. Federal immigration officials explain that “receipt of such benefits must still be considered in the context of the totality of the circumstances before a person will be deemed inadmissible on public charge grounds.”

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website reads as follows:

Public benefits that are received by one member of a family are also not attributed to other family members for public charge purposes unless the cash benefits amount to the sole support of the family.

NY Daily News reports that roughly 1.1 million people in Los Angeles county are enrolled in the CalFresh program, with an additional 700,000 legal residents or U.S. citizens who are eligible but their immediate family members are not.

In short, Los Angeles County officials allege that immigrants with legal status or those who are undocumented are staying away from all health and social services programs.

One member at a county Board of Supervisors meeting claimed she is being told by residents in her district that pregnant women are afraid to seek medical care at hospitals for the same reason.

“It’s important that people know that receiving public benefits does not automatically make an individual a public charge,” Nicholson said. “It’s important that people educate themselves about public charge and visit the USCIS website at uscis.gov before seeking out a public benefit to ensure they do not jeopardize their eligibility for a green card or citizenship.”

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