Washington County WIC assures families that “public charge” rules will not affect access to services

For Immediate Release: Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Sponsored by: Health and Human Services Department, Public Health Division

The Washington County WIC program declares that the new U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) rules expanding the definition of “public charge” do not affect those who use WIC (Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children). WIC participants cannot be penalized for seeking services such as nutrition and breastfeeding support under the new rules that went into effect on Monday, Feb. 24.

WIC participants should continue accessing WIC’s nutrition and breastfeeding support services. Oregon Health Plan coverage for prenatal and postpartum care and children younger than 21, school meals, and Head Start are also not affected by the new rules. Confusion about the new rules has resulted in fear among immigrants, and they are not seeking the care they need. Families and communities can suffer short- and long-term consequences when immigrant families are denied, or afraid to access, the care they need. 

“The information in the media and in our community about public charge is confusing,” said Sue Woodbury, Oregon WIC director. “Be assured WIC services are not impacted by the public charge rules. Immigrant families should continue to seek or stay enrolled in WIC, so they have access to the nutrition, breastfeeding support and education the program offers.”

Public charge is a term used by U.S. immigration officials to describe a person who is primarily dependent on the government, and this can prevent immigration approval. On Jan. 27, the Supreme Court issued a ruling that lifted the injunction on the public charge rule. This rule makes it more difficult for immigrants to get green cards. Federal appeals courts had previously issued injunctions blocking the rule. This recent ruling means the policy went into effect on Monday, Feb. 24. These rules will require immigration caseworkers to consider the use of government housing, food and medical assistance, as well as command of the English language, in their immigration application review. 

“Diversity is an important part of our community,” says Tara Olson, Washington County WIC program supervisor. “All Oregon immigrants and their families contribute to the well-being of our neighborhoods, communities and economy. Everyone benefits when we ensure that all mothers and children have equitable access to what they need to lead healthy and fulfilling lives.”

Washington County WIC staff will continue to inform participants that WIC is not included in public charge. The Oregon Health Authority, the state agency responsible for protecting the health of Oregonians, encourages anyone with questions about public charge to seek counsel from a qualified immigration attorney. Call the Oregon Law Center-Legal Aid Services of Oregon Public Benefits Hotline at 800-520-5292 or find an immigration attorney through Oregon Immigration Resource

WIC is an equal opportunity provider.

Media Contact:

Wendy Gordon, Department Communications Coordinator/PIO