September 10, 2021

Cárdenas, Jayapal Lead Lawmakers in Introducing Legislation to Expand Health Care, Nutrition Assistance and Other Critical Support Programs to Immigrants

LIFT the BAR Act removes cruel barriers to public benefits for immigrants by eliminating the five-year waiting period for access to Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and other urgently needed federal programs

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Representatives Tony Cárdenas (CA-29) and Pramila Jayapal (WA-07) led lawmakers today in introducing legislation to remove cruel, xenophobic and harmful barriers to federal public benefits for immigrants. The LIFT the BAR Act eliminates the current five-year waiting period for access to Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. This will restore access to critical aid for Green Card holders, DACA recipients, individuals granted Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) and other lawfully present immigrants.

“Those of us who come from immigrant families, like me, know and understand that the temporary use of public benefits is a roadmap to the American Dream,” said Congressman Cárdenas. “Families working towards a better life should not have to wait five years, sometimes in deep poverty, just to access the resources they need to thrive. Our legislation will eliminate the unnecessary waiting period for lifesaving services and ensure our immigrant communities have the financial stability for a better future.”

“As an immigrant who came to this country alone at the age of 16, I am proud to introduce legislation that finally eliminates senseless, harmful, and xenophobic barriers to health care, nutrition assistance, and other life-changing public benefits for immigrant families,” said Congresswoman Jayapal. “As COVID-19 disproportionately impacts immigrants who are heroically serving on the frontlines of this crisis, the LIFT the BAR Act is an urgent, necessary, and just step towards ensuring they have access to the care, relief, and support they need and deserve — during a pandemic and beyond.”

In 1996, Congress passed restrictive welfare and immigration legislation that created an arbitrary five-year waiting period for immigrants with legal status to access critical benefits and services, including highly effective programs like Medicaid, CHIP, and SNAP. Last August, the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force recommended working with Congress to lift this five-year bar for Medicaid and CHIP eligibility. 

The LIFT the BAR Act would accomplish this by:

  • Restoring access to federal public benefits for lawfully present immigrants, including people with Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status, DACA recipients, individuals granted SIJS and other federally authorized non-citizens residing in the United States.
  • Eliminating the five-year bar for Medicaid, CHIP, SNAP, TANF and the SSI program.
  • Removing arbitrary barriers by ensuring that immigrants with sponsors have access to services based on the income and resources that are actually available to them, removing state authority to impose additional restrictions on qualified immigrants, and restoring flexibility for states and localities to provide benefits to immigrants with their own funds.

The need to eliminate barriers to health care and expand access to aid has only been highlighted by a deadly public health and economic crisis that disproportionately impacts immigrants who are at a higher risk of COVID-19 infection. Immigrants represent a substantial part of America’s essential workforce with at least 23 million immigrants — including more than one million Dreamers — making up one in five individuals in the essential workforce. Additionally, over two-thirds of the undocumented population are working on the frontlines of the pandemic, leaving them more vulnerable to COVID-19.

Immigrants are significantly more likely to be uninsured, placing them at a higher risk for adverse health and financial consequences. In 2018, one quarter of lawfully present immigrants and 45 percent of undocumented immigrants were uninsured. While the immigrant population as a whole accounted for an estimated 14% of the population, immigrants made up 30% of the non-elderly uninsured population. 

Today’s legislation is proudly endorsed by dozens of local, state, and national organizations including ??ACA Consumer Advocacy, African Communities Together, Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, Alliance for Immigrant Survivors, American Academy of Pediatrics, Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence, Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF), Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations (AAPCHO), Association of Maternal & Child Health Programs, Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, Bread for the World, Center for Constitutional Rights, Center for Law and Social Policy, Center for Survivor Agency & Justice, Children's Defense Fund, Children's HealthWatch, Coalition on Human Needs, CommunicationFIRST, Community Catalyst, Comunidad Maya Pixan Ixim, Educare Learning Network, Esperanza United (formerly Casa de Esperanza: National Latin@ Network), Families USA, Family Voices, First Focus Campaign for Children, Futures Without Violence, Guttmacher Institute, Hispanic Federation, HIV Medicine Association, Justice in Aging, Khmer Health Advocates, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), LatinoJustice PRLDEF, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum (NAPAWF), National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners, National Coalition for Latinxs with Disabilities (CNLD), National Council of Jewish Women, National Domestic Violence Hotline, National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, National Hispanic Medical Association, National Homelessness Law Center, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice, National Network for Arab American Communities (NNAAC), National Partnership for New Americans (NPNA), National WIC Association, NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Poligon Education Fund, Prevention Institute, RESULTS, Shriver Center on Poverty Law, The Workers Circle, UnidosUS, Union for Reform Judaism, and World Institute on Disability.

“All of us – no matter how much money we have or where we were born – have a fundamental right to health care, education, nutrition, and housing. By eliminating these discriminatory exclusions that have kept the safety net out of reach for millions of immigrants and their loved ones, the LIFT the BAR Act would help confront significant disparities that have only been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic and bring us closer to our vision of health care for all so that everyone can have the freedom to thrive,” said Marielena Hincapié, the executive director of the National Immigration Law Center. “The National Immigration Law Center thanks Reps. Pramila Jayapal and Tony Cárdenas for their leadership and urges Congress to swiftly see it through.” 

"Families USA is proud to support the Lift the Bar Act, a critical bill that would provide lawfully present immigrant families with much needed access to health care through programs like Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. The current 5-year ban on new Americans’ access to these basic life-sustaining programs is an unnecessary, outdated, and inhumane policy,” said Jen Taylor, the Senior Director of Federal Relations at Families USA. “As we have seen clearly throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, making it harder for some of us to access care negatively impacts the whole community, but especially those who are most vulnerable to begin with, like our essential workers. This bill corrects this previous policy failure and ensures families who are eligible receive access to programs their taxes already pay for. Families USA thanks Representatives Jayapal and Cárdenas for their leadership and will continue to work with Congress on ensuring affordable access to health care for ALL families."

“Ending the 5-year bar on Medicaid, CHIP, and other public benefits is one of the most critical actions that Congress can immediately take to foster health equity and reproductive justice,” said Madeline T. Morcelle, the Staff Attorney at National Health Law Program (NHeLP). “We thank Representatives Jayapal and Cárdenas for their leadership on dismantling this deeply racist and xenophobic force. It’s time to lift the bar.” 

“UnidosUS has long worked to undo discriminatory restrictions and expand access to public benefit programs like Medicaid, CHIP, and SNAP. Policies like the five-year bar unquestionably have an outsized impact on Latinos’ ability to access the social services and programs that have been a lifeline for millions of Americans, especially over the past year. These restrictions don’t only hurt immigrants, but spill over and reduce benefits to citizen children in mixed status families, and are mistakenly seen as a barrier to access COVID-19 vaccines,” said Eric Rodriguez, the Senior Vice President of Policy and Advocacy at UnidosUS. “We appreciate the leadership of Representatives Pramila Jayapal and Tony Cárdenas and the other sponsors and for their commitment to ensuring more immigrant families are able to draw upon the same social safety net that all Americans can turn to when in need.”

"Health care is a human right, and it is wrong for immigrants to be denied access to the health and other social services they need. Many immigrants, including AAs and PIs, work as essential and front-line workers, who are critical to keeping our communities safe and running. As the COVID-19 pandemic has made clear, delaying health care and forcing them to wait five years to access these programs hurts all communities. It is more difficult and expensive for health care providers to care for and treat their patients,” said Adam Carbullido, the Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations (AAPCHO). “AAPCHO and our member community health centers commend Congresswoman Jayapal, Congressman Cárdenas, and their colleagues for their leadership in introducing this important legislation. We urge Congress to pass the LIFT the BAR Act and eliminate this discriminatory anti-immigrant policy." 

"Discriminatory barriers to federal benefits, especially Medicaid, a service so many AAPI women rely on, force individuals to choose between putting food on the table and accessing quality health insurance,” said Sung Yeon Choimorrow, the Executive Director at National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF). “The LIFT the BAR Act is one step closer to ensuring everyone has access to the care and resources they need to thrive."

“Health care is a human right, and it is past time to eliminate the barriers that block families living in this country from accessing care. The spread of COVID-19 has laid bare the many ways our country has failed our communities, including cruel and unnecessary policy barriers that prevent im/migrants from accessing affordable healthcare,” said Lupe M. Rodríguez, the Executive Director at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice (Latina Institute). “We need to pass the Lift the Bar Act to get rid of the arbitrary five-year wait many im/migrants face before they can access Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Our im/migrant families and communities deserve to have care to keep themselves and their families healthy and thriving. 

The Lifting Immigrant Families Through Benefits Access Restoration (LIFT the BAR) Act is co-sponsored by U.S. Representatives Adams (NC), Auchincloss, Barragán, Bonamici, Bowman, Carson, Castor, Chu, Clarke, Connolly, Cooper, Dean, Escobar, Espaillat, Frankel, Gallego, García , Grijalva, Jacobs, Johnson, Jr. , Jones, Kahele, Kirkpatrick, Lee, Lieu, Maloney, McGovern, Meng, Moore, Nadler, Napolitano, Newman, Norton, Pocan, Pressley, Royball-Allard, Sánchez, Scanlon, Schakowsky, Smith, Soto, Titus, Tlaib, Torres (CA), Torres (NY), Trone, Wasserman Schultz and Watson Coleman. 

The text of the legislation is available here.