As we face the rapid spread of COVID-19 and its effect on our economy, one thing is clear: we are all in this together. This includes Coloradans who were born in other countries but who call this state their home. To Colorado’s immigrants — whether you had access to the legal immigration process or not — you matter, your families matter and your contributions to society matter.
Our social safety net programs are supposed to address the structural problems in our social and economic system that make it difficult for people to make ends meet. There are critical gaps in that safety net that leave many in our immigrant communities behind. But even as we advocate for solutions to those injustices, there are resources for you and your families.
COVID-19 testing and treatment
Testing for COVID-19 is available in Colorado but you must have an order from a doctor in order to get tested. If you are feeling sick, you should call your doctor’s office or a clinic in your area. Center for Health Progress has compiled a list of clinics by region, including contact information. You should only go to an emergency room if you think you have an emergency.
The testing at state laboratories is free of cost and staff don’t inquire about immigration status. People do have to provide identification in order to get tested, but testing sites must accept any form of ID.
CO-HELP, the Colorado Health Emergency Line for the Public, is a toll-free hotline set-up to provide information about COVID-19. Call 1-877-462-2911 with questions.
Public charge will be discussed in greater detail below, but U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has announced that immigrants who undergo medical testing for COVID-19 or treatment related to it will not be penalized when applying for green cards and visas under the newly enacted public charge rule.
Health insurance coverage to identify and treat illness is a critical need, especially during this crisis. It ensures that people can see a doctor or get prescriptions they need and helps protect people from financial crisis due to medical bills.
There are several federally supported health coverage programs available for Coloradans with low- to middling incomes: Health First Colorado, Colorado’s Medicaid program, is available to people with disabilities and those who meet certain income requirements. The Child Health Plan Plus (CHP+) is available to children and pregnant women who are just above the income limit for Medicaid. Finally, reduced-cost health insurance through Connect for Health Colorado is available to people that earn too much to qualify for Medicaid or CHP+.
Just about anyone with a green card can qualify for Medicaid if they meet the other eligibility requirements. The exception is non-pregnant adults, who can’t qualify until they’ve had their green card for five years. Children and pregnant women can qualify for Medicaid and CHP+ as soon as they get their green card or another legal status, such as a temporary visa. Anyone with their green card or with a temporary visa can qualify for reduced-cost insurance on Connect for Health Colorado. Refugees, asylees, and people with other statuses granted for humanitarian reasons can qualify for Medicaid, CHP+ and reduced-cost insurance.
Individuals with legal status who don’t qualify for Medicaid or CHP+ may qualify for the Colorado Indigent Care Program (CICP), which reduces the cost of certain hospital services. For those without legal status, the so-called emergency Medicaid program will pay for emergency services for anyone who meets the income requirements for Medicaid but can’t qualify for the program because of immigration status. Additionally, many hospitals offer financial assistance programs regardless of immigration status. Finally, there is a large network of community health centers and other primary care clinics across the state that provide discounted primary care services to everyone in their communities. During the COVID-19 crisis, many of those clinics have continued to see patients virtually using telehealth technologies.
Everyone has the right to apply for Medicaid and CHP+. You can apply for Medicaid and CHP+ any time of year. While people can generally apply in person, many county offices are closed at this time. You can also apply online by visiting this site. You can convert the language on that page to Spanish by clicking “Español” at the top of the screen.
People can apply for reduced-cost health insurance through Connect for Health Colorado through their website. Generally, enrollment in private health insurance is only available during open enrollment in December and January unless you have access to a special enrollment period because of a change to your job or household. However, because of the COVID-19 emergency there is a special enrollment period (SEP) available to everyone now through April 3, 2020.
You can apply for CICP, emergency Medicaid and hospital financial assistance programs in the hospital. If you or a family member receive hospital care, be sure to ask the hospital to assess you for those programs.
Food insecurity can be devastating. It is associated with higher rates of diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, and it makes it hard for children to succeed at school and for adults to maintain a job and build a career. As people lose work hours or get laid off due to the impacts of COVID-19, food insecurity in our state is likely to get worse and we encourage people to take advantage of food assistance programs that are available.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides a monthly benefit for households with limited financial resources. People enrolled in SNAP receive a benefit card that they can use like a credit card at the grocery store.
Coloradans with certain immigration statuses can qualify for SNAP. Green card holders can qualify once they have had their green card for five years, though adults that aren’t disabled and that don’t have children may need to meet work or job training requirements to stay on the program longer than three months. People granted refugee status, asylum, or certain other statuses granted for humanitarian purposes can also qualify for SNAP. In addition, children that meet all the eligibility requirements can qualify for SNAP benefits even if their parents do not qualify.
People that do not qualify for SNAP due to their immigration status still have options. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides a SNAP-like food benefit for pregnant women and moms with children under five, regardless of their immigration status. In addition, food pantries make food available to everyone in the community who needs it without inquiring about immigration status.
Individuals can apply for SNAP and WIC online through this link. People can get help connecting to food resources from Hunger Free Colorado’s Food Resource Hotline by calling 855-855-4626 (statewide) or 720-382-2920 (Denver-metro).
Colorado’s unemployment insurance program provides cash payments to people that lose their job through no fault of their own. Payments are made once every two weeks as long as participants maintain their eligibility by meeting certain reporting and job-search requirements.
Coloradans in a wide range of immigration statuses can qualify for unemployment insurance. In general, Coloradans who are authorized to work in the United States can qualify for the program if they meet other program requirements. People with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status are among those that can qualify. Unfortunately, Coloradans without documentation cannot qualify for unemployment insurance. Advocates, along with many partners in the community are working to find solutions to this problem.
People can apply for unemployment insurance online. Over the past two weeks, the economic fallout from COVID-19 has led to an extremely high volume of unemployment claims. As a result, the Department of Labor is asking that people with last names that start with A through M apply on Tuesday, Thursday, or Sunday after noon and that people with last names that start with M through Z apply on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday before noon.
Rent and utility help
City and county governments may have other programs that help people meet their needs, especially during times of crisis. For example, the Temporary Rental and Utility Assistance program (TRUA) offers resources to Denver residents to help prevent eviction or displacement. Through Denver’s program, city residents that meet income requirements can receive assistance with utilities and up to 80 percent of rent. People can get more information about the program by dialing 311 in Denver and pressing 6.
People deemed likely to become a “public charge” can be denied a green card or visa. Under a new rule, a person is more likely to be deemed a public charge if they use Medicaid, SNAP, certain federal housing benefits, or cash benefit programs that keep recipients at a certain level of income.
The new rule has led many people to fear using critical programs. But it is important to keep several facts in mind so that you can make the best choices for your families.
First, many government programs are not considered at all in the public charge test. The only programs discussed in this blog posting that, if used, could harm a person’s chances of being approved for a green card or visa are Medicaid and SNAP.
Second, not all uses of Medicaid are counted negatively under the public charge test. Use of Medicaid by children and pregnant women is not counted negatively when they apply for a green card. In addition, use of emergency Medicaid by anyone is not counted negatively.
Third, refugees, asylees and immigrants with certain other statuses granted for humanitarian purposes are not subject to the public charge test at all when they apply for their green card. In addition, people that already have their green card already passed the public charge test. They will not have to pass the test again when they renew their green card or when they apply for citizenship.
Fourth, parents are not more likely to be deemed a public charge for enrolling their children in public programs the children qualify for. Parents can apply for services on behalf of their children without receiving benefits for themselves.
Finally, as noted above, people will not be penalized under the public charge rule for seeking testing or treatment for COVID-19.
These are challenging times but there are programs in place that can help us meet those challenges and networks of advocates, community leaders, foundations, and others standing with your communities to demand those programs meet the needs of everyone in our communities. We know that you are part of the “us” that makes our communities whole.