Responding to Crisis: Marking One Year of COVID-19

Last March, few imagined that our community would still be grappling with the coronavirus pandemic a year later.

In many ways it seems the pandemic is nearing an end after this year of hardship and loss: vaccines for the virus are increasingly available, and cases have dropped to a point where North Carolina is easing activity restrictions. 

But we are only just beginning to understand the extent to which this virus has driven our neighbors to the margins of safety, economic security and family stability, laying bare the extreme inequities that have long existed in our community. 

Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy has spent the last year fighting for our community’s most vulnerable residents as COVID-19 upended daily life.

As we pass this milestone, we take stock of just how much we’ve fought to advance our mission of pursuing justice this past year.  

It’s work we do every day and have always done in our 50+ years of service. But COVID-19 has cast a glaring spotlight on the importance of our mission. 

Pursuing justice: It’s fairness under the law. It’s equal access. It’s meeting basic needs. And it’s making sure our neighbors are equipped to endure any crisis life throws their way, including a global pandemic. 

Today and every day, we continue this hard, necessary work until our community is a stronger, more just and equitable place for ALL. 

Over the past year we:

  • Addressed immediate issues related to agency closures in our local Department of Social Services (DSS), allowing for remote application for benefits and limiting terminations and state unemployment insurance systems to tackle issues stalling federal unemployment benefits.
  • Helped clients navigate individual economic stimulus payments and unemployment insurance programs.
  • Prevented illegal evictions and kept vulnerable populations safely housed.
  • Responded to critical needs for protective orders and intervention due to a sharp increase in domestic violence incidents while our courts were operating on a limited capacity.
  • Monitored the changes in Medicaid, food stamps and other assistance programs to ensure coverage is not disrupted for those who need them in our community.
  • Advocated for language and technological access on administrative applications for health, food and income benefits to ensure all who were entitled to assistance could receive it.
  • Assisted people who have lost their jobs and/or health insurance navigate Affordable Care Act health coverage options and Special Enrollment Periods (SEPs).
  • Ensured members of our community are not falling victim to COVID-19 related scams and losing their income.
  • Helped immigrant families understand the unique ways the pandemic impacts employment, housing, public resources, ICE activity and immigration courts.

Read on to learn more about the need for our services and our impact over the past year.

Meeting Exacerbated Needs

Days after the first cases were reported, we shifted to remote operations, equipping staff to continue our work as the need for help grew exponentially.

For our neighbors living on economic and health margins, the pandemic has further exacerbated their instability in extreme ways.

The need for our services before the pandemic:

  • More than two thirds of low-income households were experiencing at least one civil legal problem that significantly impacted daily life. These rates are much higher for survivors of domestic violence, immigrants, veterans, families, and parents of children with disabilities.
  • In Mecklenburg County, poverty, segregation, and income inequality have pushed residents to the sidelines, concentrating distress in family stability and fortifying barriers to economic opportunity.
  • Children born into poor families in Mecklenburg County are among the least likely in the U.S. to escape poverty.
  • About 300,000 Mecklenburg residents were eligible for our services.

Public agencies closed and delayed services just as newly unemployed individuals found themselves trying to piece together a semblance of stability navigating administrative and public benefits systems for the first time.

Those already depending on these systems (people with disabilities, children, seniors, veterans and their families) were desperate to prevent the illness, hunger and homelessness that could result from losing Medicaid, Food Stamps, Social Security, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or other benefits.

The combined effects of racial, gender, ethnic, and other forms of bias create multiple barriers for people of color and women as they navigate institutions where entrenched disparities remain the status quo.

This clear intersectionality has yielded disproportionately negative impacts for people of color and women during the pandemic. Because of this reality, we have continued to identify and address systemic racism while fighting to ensure equal access to assistance.

When Mecklenburg County’s Department of Social Services (DSS) closed its offices to the public on March 18 with little notice, we fought to make sure our neighbors could still get benefits and services guaranteed to them under the law.

We made DSS agree to:

  • honor the date of phone calls as date of application for applicants to ensure they receive the maximum amounts of benefits allowed;
  • not terminate benefits for missed deadlines; and
  • allow late appeals, and to post clear signage in front of their buildings outlining this information.

The closure sent applicants to the agency’s call center which meant longer wait times for help.

We made sure people understood their eligibility for public benefits, helped them apply and navigate confusing administrative systems, all while ensuring their rights were protected. When programs and services changed, we kept the community informed.

We continue to advocate for extensions and flexibilities that are favorable to beneficiaries, while serving as a watchdog to ensure those policies are appropriately enforced and accessible to applicants of all backgrounds.

‘Things are smoother now.’

Food Insecurity

Before the pandemic, about 12 percent of Mecklenburg residents, including children, were considered food insecure according to Feeding America. The ongoing economic fallout has swollen that number to almost 16 percent who are on the brink of hunger.

In the last year, our staff assisted 371 people and their families with issues accessing food stamps (SNAP benefits), making sure they could successfully get the assistance they needed to remain stable and understood their eligibility for SNAP and other public benefits.

North Carolina was among the earliest adopters of Pandemic EBT (PEBT), which provides food support for families with children eligible for free or reduced-price meals while schools were closed. Though N.C. took many positive steps in creating this program, there have been hurdles and confusion in the implementation. We have been working closely with clients, partner organizations, and the state to monitor issues on the ground and communicate them to N.C. Department of Health and Human Services to ensure the program works efficiently and families receive these critical benefits quickly.

Healthcare Access

Our health insurance navigators and call-back volunteers assisted over 1000 community members apply and select an affordable health insurance plan for their budget during Open Enrollment Nov. 1 – Dec. 15. Health insurance is critical to safety, stability, and health–particularly during the COVID-19 crisis.

Before the pandemic, one in six Americans had a civil legal problem that negatively impacted their health. We knew that unmet legal needs related to COVID-19 would dramatically worsen health outcomes.

Thirteen percent of Mecklenburg residents don’t have health coverage. More than 500,000 low-income people in N.C. have no options to get health care because they earn too much to qualify for Medicaid and too little to receive financial assistance for health insurance.

COVID-19 forced frontline workers to weigh the risks of working to keep their families stable with the chance of falling critically ill and needing to seek medical care they couldn’t afford. Others lost health insurance benefits with their jobs at a time when access to health care mattered most.

Many who lost their jobs due to COVID-19 did not realize they had the option to apply for health care coverage through a Healthcare Insurance Marketplace Special Enrollment Period (SEP) 60 days after losing coverage. Consequently, many went without it due to their inability to afford private insurance.

Johanna Parra, coordinator of the Advocacy Center’s Health Insurance Navigator Project, was among the first in the nation to discover another option for those who were desperate to get coverage and have peace of mind knowing they could get care if they needed it.

Because all 50 states were under the COVID-19 pandemic national emergency declaration, eligible individuals could apply for coverage through the Affordable Care Act’s Health Insurance Marketplace, also referred to as “Obamacare,” for a Special Enrollment Period through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA SEP).

Fighting for Equal Access

As soon as Congress passed the CARES Act to provide economic support and COVID-19 relief, there was confusion around the benefits included in the package.

Understanding the CARES Act and COVID Relief: Stimulus Payments and Unemployment Benefits

Families desperate for financial support needed help making sure they received stimulus checks (Economic Impact Payments) issued by the federal government.

Who was eligible? How would payments be distributed? What if payments didn’t arrive?

We answered these questions and more for our clients and the community to ensure everyone eligible for a payment could receive it.

Staff are now helping people address missing stimulus checks and other issues related to the CARES Act as people try to prepare their 2020 tax returns at a time when collection activities and massive job losses strain taxpayers. We are working to resolve these issues and push the IRS to offer specific remedies for various issues related to stimulus checks.

We are also working closely with clients and partner organizations to ensure the latest COVID-19 stimulus opportunities from the American Rescue Plan are understood and correctly received.

Resource guide: Managing unemployment and benefits
We partnered with WCNC Charlotte to produce a resource page to answer questions about stimulus payments and unemployment insurance.

By May of last year, more than one million North Carolinians had applied for unemployment insurance benefits. The volume of applications paired with implementing new assistance programs under the federal CARES Act has caused significant delays, making the process more challenging for applicants.

Working together, Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy and Legal Aid of North Carolina-Charlotte answered the calls of thousands of frustrated workers to guide them through the application process and appeals. Through direct action and systemic advocacy, these organizations ensured that those who had fallen through the cracks had access to the full payments they deserved.

Prior to the pandemic and historically, North Carolina’s unemployment system made it difficult for eligible residents to receive unemployment benefits, leaving workers with little to no support.

Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy is focused on removing some of these barriers by focusing on unemployment insurance system reform, essential worker benefits, living wages, and promoting workers’ rights in a right to work state—all of which disproportionately impact People of Color (POC).

We are also monitoring how scams and multi-level marketing schemes (MLMs) target unemployed and low-income individuals, especially during the COVID-19 crisis.

NC Extra Credit Grant


The NC Extra Credit Grant program provides financial support for families struggling to meet the demands of educating and caring for their children during the COVID-19 pandemic. For a parent living on minimum wage, $335 is more than he or she will earn in a week. We worked to spread the word to make sure that families who missed the first deadline didn’t miss this final application period and the chance at financial assistance.

Quick action and a strong partnership generated 24,946 applications submitted; $8 million distributed, in just 18 days.

On September 4, Gov. Roy Cooper announced the Extra Credit Grant: an additional $335 dollars in COVID-19 relief for N.C parents. While middle and high-income families automatically received the payment, low-income families had to apply through the North Carolina Department of Revenue (NCDOR).

These families had just 29 days to learn about the program and apply. Only 10,000 families did so during the initial application period.

Through a pro bono partnership, Legal Aid of North Carolina, Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, and Robinson Bradshaw filed a complaint resulting in a court order on Nov.5, 2020 that reopened and extended the application period.

Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy created a website and extensive communication campaign entitled 335 for NC, which encouraged these parents to apply for the grant through December 7, 2020. More than 32,000 individuals visited the website.

In just 18 days, Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, Legal Aid of North Carolina, and Robinson Bradshaw reached hundreds of thousands of families and delivered 24,946 applications to NCDOR resulting in more than $8 million in aid made available to families who needed it most.

Keeping Families Safe and Protected from Exploitation

Housing Rights

State and federal moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures have been implemented and continued over the past year to keep people who couldn’t pay their bills safely housed during the pandemic, but they haven’t been enough to protect everyone.

As we watched infection rates rise, courts in North Carolina started working through backlogged foreclosures. Evictions began ramping up, exacerbating the shortage of affordable housing that existed well before the threat of coronavirus. Homeowners who had to take advantage of forbearance because they could not pay their mortgages will eventually have to repay extraordinary balances on their home loans, many of which cannot be modified. 

The Advocacy Center continues to work with families desperate to keep their homes and stay current on their bills to avoid homelessness and financial ruin. We are making sure people understand their rights and obligations with lenders to help them make informed decisions about their situations. We are also educating the community to make sure our neighbors do not fall victim to scams related to COVID-19.

‘The weight that was lifted off’

Entrepreneur, grandmother, personal shopper, caregiver, and church activist. These are a few of the hats that Mrs. C wears on any given week. She keeps copious amounts of to-do lists to keep herself, her family, and her business in order, a skill she says she learned from the staff at Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy.

Immigrant families were already targets for exploitation before the pandemic. Fear of deportation, language barriers, and lack of traditional financial resources make it harder for immigrants to get assistance and leave them vulnerable.

Owners of substandard housing often rent to immigrants because the owners believe those tenants will be afraid to exercise their rights to habitable housing and to continued tenancy.

Traditional financing options are also often unavailable to immigrant families, which makes them easy targets for predatory financing options such as contracts for deed, options to purchase, installment sales contracts or lease with option contracts. These are enforced through eviction procedures and are complicated to defend without legal assistance.

Immigrants are also targeted for predatory sales of mobile homes, which can be substandard. These situations often involve predatory financing methods on land that is rented and are subject to eviction from the land, also requiring complicated defense.

The pandemic hit immigrants especially hard. Primary earners lost jobs as businesses shut down and those without legal status didn’t qualify for COVID-19 assistance.

“Because of the virus we lost our jobs and that put us behind on rent. And now it’s worse because my husband had an accident and our court date is tomorrow so we don’t know what we’re going to do … We don’t get help from anyone, those of us who are undocumented. A lot of us are going through this.”

– Advocacy Center client Ismar spoke to WFAE as her family faced eviction in July. Attorney Juan Hernandez was able to negotiate an agreement with the family’s landlord to prevent them from losing their home. Listen to the full story.

Thinking they could take advantage of families in desperate situations, landlords continued to threaten and illegally remove families from their homes.

At a time when our court system was operating on a limited capacity and resources for assistance were scarce, we helped our clients avoid homelessness, remain stable and exercise their rights.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy continues to find innovative ways to serve our community. In October, our Immigrant Justice Program partnered with Latin American Coalition to host a “curbside” clinic on the CDC Eviction Moratorium. Over thirty clients attended throughout the day to learn how to claim its protections.

We upheld their rights through our work, which included remedies such as cancellation of the contract, recovery of down payment or money paid above and beyond the fair market rental value, damages for unfair and deceptive trade practices, among others. We also conducted community education programs regarding the rights of immigrant renters related to their housing.

Domestic Violence Protection

While officials urged people to stay home to prevent spreading the virus, home wasn’t the safest option for many in our community.

Immigrant women also face additional barriers to escaping domestic violence or abuse, leaving them feeling trapped in abusive situations.

Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy helps low-income immigrants living in Mecklenburg County who are victims of domestic violence. A recent Allstate Foundation national survey found that 64 percent of Hispanic women say they know a victim of some type of abuse and 30 percent have personally been victimized.

Reports of domestic violence incidents increased significantly along with the need for legal assistance to get necessary protection early in the pandemic as people. Advocacy Center staff helped survivors and their families navigate administrative changes to get the protections they needed while our courts were closed.

Our Response Continues

We are all weathering the same storm, but we are not all in the same boat.   

The past year has made it clear just how critical access to safety, security and stability is for everyone in our community.

But barriers that prevent equal access to these needs persist. And our current safety net is simply not wide or strong enough to support everyone who needs it.

Much like the Great Recession of 2008, the recovery for those hit hardest by COVID-19, those we serve, will take years. Some will never recover.

The need is everywhere. That’s why we’re here, fighting to help families not only stay afloat but also thrive. And we’re not going anywhere.

Today and every day, we continue this hard, necessary work until our community is a stronger, more just and equitable place for ALL. 

Find the latest COVID-19 Updates

Learn about our 2021 Advocacy Agenda

Support Our Work

Access to Justice: ‘Things are smoother now.’

Before COVID-19, Melody had worked at Showmars for 22 years, whipping up the daily specials.

When someone contacts Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy for help, they are often struggling to stay afloat in a storm of crisis.

They have a big problem impacting their life but do not know how to fix it. Their problem is a symptom of various unmet legal needs that need to be addressed comprehensively to put that person on a better path.

That was the case for Melody when she contacted Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy last year. We first shared her story last fall.

Like many of our neighbors, she was already struggling when COVID-19 turned her life upside down.

As the primary financial support and caregiver for her family, she was trying to keep up with medical bills and fighting to keep her home as she faced foreclosure for unpaid property taxes from the mid-2000s left from her parents’ estate.

The Advocacy Center had helped her negotiate a payment plan with the county that included forgiveness of a substantial portion of the debt.

“When the pandemic hit, I lost my job,” Melody says. “I was devastated. I thought, ‘How am I going to make those payments?’”

Melody is used to being the one helping others. But when it came to piecing together the support her family needed to remain stable, she could not do it alone. 

Again, she called the Advocacy Center. We connected her with Legal Aid of North Carolina-Charlotte to help her get expanded unemployment benefits under the CARES Act to support her family.

“I’ve worked all my life and never needed any benefits,” Melody says. “I didn’t really know how that stuff went.”

As part of our work, we learned that Melody’s sister, Wendy’s social security benefits had been terminated despite her disability. The Advocacy Center stepped back in to ensure she was receiving the benefits she was entitled to.

We also helped Wendy apply for food stamps to help their family through this crisis.  Melody would soon turn 65, so we also ensured everything was prepared for her to receive Medicare in a few short months. 

We checked in with Melody recently to see how things are going for her and her family one year into the pandemic.

It’s been hard.

She’s lost eight family members to COVID-19. In addition to not being able to physically mourn with her loved ones, she’s missed the big family get togethers held every year—egg hunts at Easter and a family reunion in September.

Melody says one thing she’s learned through her experience is “it’s okay to ask for help and it’s okay to not be okay.”

She compares the past year to sailing through a storm and credits the staff at the Advocacy Center for guiding her to calmer waters.

“Just knowing I had them there, I was able to stay in my boat,” she says. “Things are smoother now.”

Despite the past year, she says she is still looking for the silver lining in everything.

She hopes to return to her job whipping up the daily special at Showmars in the City of Charlotte Government Center, where she had worked for 22 years. And she dreams of one day owning her own food truck.

In the meantime, she’s glad to have her health, her family cared for and a place to call if she needs help.

She smiles every time she drives by the Advocacy Center and Legal Aid office on Elizabeth Avenue.

“Look at how much work the people in that teeny little building do!” Melody says. “The work they do, it’s needed. Because sometimes people just need a helping hand. It’s been a blessing.”

Melody, we’re glad we could help. Call us if you need anything.

Your support of the Access to Justice Campaign makes success stories like Melody’s possible. Consider making a contribution today!

Living in Fear: Report Documents the Harm Inflicted on Immigrant Families, Children in Charlotte Area, Carolinas

Every day, immigrant families live in fear of separation and suffer from chronic stress while struggling to build a stable life in a community that keeps them on the fringes.

These are the findings of a recent report documenting the harm of the Trump administration’s deliberate attacks on immigrants living in the Carolinas and across the U.S.

In collaboration with Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy and South Carolina Appleseed, the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) has released its findings based on interviews with a range of professionals serving the immigrant community—including childcare providers, nursing home visitors, health and mental health care providers, health insurance navigators, nutrition assistance providers, and legal service providers.

“The Trump Administration has repeatedly shown indifference to the effects of its policies and rhetoric on children across the country and in some cases is deliberately using harm to immigrant children as a political lever,” said Madison Allen, co-author of the Carolinas report and senior policy analyst/attorney at CLASP. “We found that parents are altering their daily lives and avoiding public health, nutrition, and education programs because of these relentless attacks. We heard stories about parents being detained in front of their children, kids who are afraid to go outside and play, and chronic stress that will have long-term consequences for many children.”

Charlotte’s foreign-born population makes up 10 percent of the total population, with most individuals coming from Latin America (50 percent) and Asia (31 percent). This population has grown significantly over the past 10 years.

With one in four children having at least one immigrant parent, the report illustrates the deliberate detrimental impact this administration’s rhetoric and policies are having on children and, by extension, our greater community.

Through interviews conducted between January and March 2020 in the Charlotte metro and Columbia, S.C. areas, recurring themes echoed the harmful and deep impacts families experience because of the Trump administration’s harmful rhetoric and zero-tolerance enforcement tactics.

Interviewees shared stories of how the constant, looming fear of immigration enforcement dramatically impacts daily life for immigrant parents and children in their communities.

Parents and caregivers are afraid to leave their homes to work or take care of everyday necessities out of fear that they will not return home to their families. That fear is not limited to adults either. Children of all ages are also experiencing and internalizing chronic stress and anxiety that impacts their health and wellbeing in ways that will linger for years.

Providers shared concerns about the children who are living at homes with chronic ongoing stress and what that means for their future. As a nurse practitioner explained, “the increase in cortisol and the inflammatory markers that go along with stress precipitates a lot of chronic disease.”

Families are also avoiding publicly funded health and nutrition services for which they are eligible specifically due to the administration’s new Public Charge rule. The rule, which went into effect Feb. 24, expands the types of benefits considered in the “public charge” immigration test administered to immigrants entering the country or seeking permanent residency to determine if they will become primarily dependent on the government for financial support.

The rule has faced several court challenges since going into effect with decisions just in the last month that have put it on hold and then resumed it again, adding to confusion about what options families have.

Immigrants without legal status do not qualify for most public benefits. Most immigrants with status who do qualify for public benefits along with all U.S. citizen family members are not subject to the rule. Also, several types of public benefits are not included in the assessment, such as WIC, NC Health Choice and Emergency Medicaid. This hasn’t stopped families from withdrawing from stabilizing programs out of fear.

In the report, Advocacy Center staff shared several stories of families choosing not to enroll in benefits.

One story involved a woman from Mexico who had been a U.S. citizen for 20 years. During a meeting to enroll in health coverage, a health insurance navigator shared that the woman was eligible to sign up for food stamps (SNAP benefits) based on her income. The woman declined “… because of the public charge, she thought it applied to her … and she was just really scared.”

Medical-Legal Partnership coordinator Elizabeth Setaro has been leading the Advocacy Center’s efforts to help families fight fear with facts.

“Through education and outreach, we are making sure families understand what they’re entitled to receive and have access to the necessary resources that ensure they remain stable during these uncertain times,” Setaro said.

On top of policy threats at the federal level, immigrant families in the Carolinas face added barriers when accessing safety net programs like Medicaid due to shortcomings in the state eligibility software and training for social services staff. These systems are difficult for most people to effectively navigate without assistance, especially when English is a second language.

CLASP’s research found that conditions for immigrant children and their families in the Carolinas were exacerbated by confusion, misinformation and limited availability of legal services, specifically in South Carolina.

In the Charlotte region, the Advocacy Center is the largest provider of free and low-cost legal services for immigrant families, but additional options for legal assistance are limited beyond hiring a private attorney.

Private immigration attorneys are often not well versed on immigrant eligibility for public benefits, which also adds to confusion and uncertainty.

The Advocacy Center fights to ensure equal access to resources under the law for immigrant families. That includes working with service providers and the immigrant community to help families understand and access local resources that are available, while also holding administrative and government systems accountable to provide services families are entitled to receive.

The report’s findings illustrate the need for policies that equitably ensure safety, economic security and stability for all families, including immigrants.

Such policies would enable all people to live their lives as productive citizens engaging in civic and economic life without fear and build a strong community that allows families to thrive.

Learn more by reading the report, “Trump Administration Immigration Policies Are Harming Children and Families in the Carolinas”.

Fighting Fear with Facts: Helping Families Understand Public Charge

As a member of the Protecting Immigrant Families Campaign, a national coalition of organizations fighting to protect immigrant family stability, Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy has been working to educate the community on the local impact of the Trump administration’s new Public Charge rule.

The rule, which went into effect Feb. 24, expands the types of benefits considered in the “public charge” immigration test administered to immigrants entering the country or seeking permanent residency to determine if they will become primarily dependent on the government for financial support. 

This broader definition makes it harder for low-income immigrants to legally immigrate to the U.S. through family-based petitions or adjust their immigration status to become legal permanent residents (become green card holders).

Misinformation around the rule is also creating unnecessary fear for families who are not impacted. Immigrants without legal status do not qualify for most public benefits. Many immigrants with status who do qualify and all U.S. citizen family members are not subject to the rule.

Families are also scared to use resources that are not included in the rule such as Affordable Care Act Marketplace health coverage, local health programs, and school lunches programs.

That’s why families need to seek legal advice and understand their options before making any major decisions.

Medical-Legal Partnership coordinator Elizabeth Setaro has been leading the Advocacy Center’s efforts, appearing in local Spanish media and conducting presentations for families, healthcare providers and community groups that serve the immigrant community.

“Our goal is to help families fight fear with facts,” she said. “When families have the information they need, they can make informed decisions about what is best for their individual situations.”

Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy’s health insurance navigators also participated in a report released last week by the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) documenting the harm caused by the public charge rule before it was implemented. The report shows the chilling effect the rule has had on families using public benefits and seeking health care they are entitled to receive.

NILC interviewed health insurance navigators Andrea Mora and Johanna Parra, who provided firsthand accounts of the fear they have observed from families the Advocacy Center serves. Since the rule was proposed, Mora and Parra have had families who were not subject to the rule insist on withdrawing from benefits out of fear that continuing to use them would jeopardize their immigration status. 

The sad part of all this is that, mainly, all these consumers are already green card–holders. They are already residents, so some of them will apply for citizenship in a few years, some of them … have been given the green card …. [W]e have to explain, “You are already a resident, you won’t have any problem because this is a proposed rule that will affect from maybe when you are applying for residency, so that is not your situation.”

Quote from a Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy navigator featured in “Documenting through Service Provider Accounts Harm Caused by the Department of Homeland Security’s Public Charge Rule” published by the National Immigration Law Center.

This continues to happen even though the rule does not apply to most immigrants.

Now with concerns of COVID-19 spread, families may fear seeking testing or care if they worry about negative immigration impacts.

Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy continues to monitor the effects of this rule and is available to help families understand their options.

Learn more about Public Charge and its impact on our community:

Public Charge: What Families Need to Know
Ocho Cosas Que Debes Saber Sobre Carga Pública

Ocho Cosas Que Debes Saber Sobre Carga Pública

Tiene preguntas sobre la “carga pública”? Mire esta presentación de Elizabeth Setaro  del Centro Apoyo Legal de Charlotte para conocer cómo la carga pública y si afecta a su familia.

¿Qué es la carga publica?

La carga publica se refiere a una ley antigua de inmigración que dice que el gobierno puede negar entrada o la residencia permanente a un inmigrante que probablemente dependa del gobierno en el futuro.

¿A quién aplica la carga publica?

  • Personas que ingresan al EEUU con visas de estudiante, laborales o familiares
  • Personas con visa de estudiante, laborales o familiar que solicitan ajustar su estatus migratorio al estatus de residente permanente
  • Residentes permanentes que salen del país por seis meses o más y buscan reingresar a los EEUU

¿A quién NO aplica la carga publica?

  • Asilo o refugiado
  • Renovación de residencia
  • TPS, visa U, visa T
  • Renovaciones de DACA
  • Estado especial para inmigrante juvenil
  • Personas aplicando para ciudadanía

¿Cuáles beneficios son considerados para la carga publica?

  • Medicaid (excepto Medicaid de emergencia, menores de 21 años, mujeres embarazadas y nuevas madres)
  • Programa de asistencia nutricional, “estampillas de comida” o “cupones de alimento”
  • Programas de asistencia en efectivo (SSI, TANF, asistencia general)
  • Asistencia de vivienda como Sección 8 y Vivienda Publica
  • La mayoría de las personas sujetas a la regla no son elegibles para beneficios mencionados.

¿Cuáles beneficios NO son afectados por la carga publica?

  • Todos servicios no mencionados
  • WIC
  • CHIP
  • Mercado de salud, obamacare
  • Almuerzos escolares
  • Dispensas de alimentos
  • Asistencia de cuidado infantil

¿Qué va a pasar si uso beneficios?

  • El uso de beneficios no lo hará automáticamente un cargo publico
  • Los oficiales de inmigración deben examinar todas sus circunstancias para determinar si es probable que dependa del gobierno en el futuro.
  • Edad, salud, ingresos, educación, habilidades, otros
  • Factores positivos se pueden medir contra factores negativos

¿Use beneficios en el pasado, como me afectan los cambios?

  • Los cambios en la ley NO son retroactivos
  • Solo cuentan beneficios recibidos empezando el 24 de febrero
  • Beneficios recibidos antes de esa fecha siguen las reglas antiguas

¿Un familiar recibe estos beneficios, me afecta a mí?

  • Beneficios recibidos por los dependientes de un solicitante no pueden considerarse en la evaluación de la carga pública del solicitante
  • Incluir su nombre en la aplicación de su hijo NO significa que ha solicitado beneficios para usted

Supreme Court allows Public Charge rule to go into effect

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily lifted a nationwide court order blocking implementation of the Trump administration’s revised “public charge” rule. The 5-4 decision allows the rule to go into effect while legal challenges play out in lower courts.

This rule creates a discriminatory immigration system that only serves the wealthy. It targets immigrants legally seeking permanent resident status in the U.S., forcing them to choose between family unity and their ability to access basic needs such as food, shelter and health care.

“Public charge” has been a longstanding immigration test administered to immigrants entering the country or seeking permanent residency to determine if they will become primarily dependent on the government for financial support.

For more than 100 years, the U.S. government has recognized that social supports like health care and nutrition help families thrive and remain productive contributors to society. The government has long clarified that immigrant families can seek health and nutrition benefits for eligible families without fear of harming their immigration case.

Today, families no longer have that assurance.

Under the new rule, the definition of “public charge” is drastically broadened to consider whether a person is likely to use public benefits. This broader definition makes it harder for low-income immigrants to legally immigrate to the U.S. through family-based petitions or adjust their immigration status to become legal permanent residents.

While this rule directly affects a small number of people, fear surrounding it has already done considerable harm.

Last year, the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute’s Center for Children and Families reported that the U.S. saw its first increase in the uninsured rate for children in more than a decade. The Kaiser Family Foundation has also reported about half of community health centers reported people declining or withdrawing from coverage because of this regulation.

Locally Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy has helped families who fear punishment for using benefits they are legally eligible to receive MORE than the instability created by going without this support.

The rule is a dangerous departure from our country’s proud identity as a nation of immigrants seeking the American Dream’s promise of opportunity earned through persistence and hard work.

Instead, of welcoming the “tired, poor, huddled masses” of the world to our country, this rule allows the wealthy to jump to the front of the line and cut off families who have waited years to reunite.

It punishes low-income people for wanting to legally live in the U.S. It denies vulnerable families the chance to even try to “pull themselves up by the bootstraps.”

Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy serves hardworking low-income immigrant families who deserve a fair shot at the American Dream.

Now that this rule will go into effect, we are certain that many more families will decline critical access to nutrition, healthcare and housing they are eligible to receive, creating more confusion for families who already live in fear and vulnerable to exploitation.

This chilling effect destabilizes families, and it will impact our community for years to come.

Building a strong community means helping families thrive. When families are too afraid to seek assistance to meet their basic needs, our whole community suffers. Family safety and unity should not have to come at the expense of stability.

From the Protecting Immigrant Families Campaign:

What we can do RIGHT NOW

This rule is scary for families and communities they live in. It’s important for us to remember that we must fight fear with facts.

Yes, the Supreme Court’s ruling allows the public charge regulation to take effect, but …

  1. This rule may not be in place forever. However, it is in place for now and needs to be considered when making decisions for your family.
  2. The Administration hasn’t said when the rule will take effect. Follow Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy for updates as we learn more from our national partners.
  3. The legal battle over this rule continues in the lower courts.


Fear is the Trump administration’s real weapon. Facts are families’ best defense against it:

  1. Most immigrants who are subject to public charge are not eligible for the programs listed in the rule. 
  2. Get the facts to do what’s best for your family.
  3. Anyone with questions about how this rule will impact their family can contact Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy.

The fight to ensure all families have the right to thrive isn’t over.

  1. This regulation goes against our national identity. We are a nation of immigrants and that’s what makes our country great. Everyone deserves a fair shot at the American Dream, not just the wealthy.
  2. Immigrant families and allies must fight this regulation on different fronts.
    • Get the facts to do what’s best for your family
    • Help the Protecting Immigrant Families Campaign take this fight to Congress
    • Participate in the 2020 Census to ensure a complete and honest count. Urge others to participate.
    • Make sure your state and local government officials understand how this rule hurts our community.

9-30 Recap of Healthcare Hot Topics: Access to Care in N.C.

When it comes to health care in North Carolina, a lot is changing. Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy and CareRing recently hosted a policy update to help residents understand what’s changing and how we can protect access to care in our community. Learn about what is happening and use these resources to stay informed.

Medicaid Transformation in North Carolina

North Carolina’s Medicaid program is changing. The state has contracted with private health insurance companies to manage health care for most N.C. residents who receive health coverage through Medicaid and NC Health Choice (CHIP). Find out what you need to know to prepare your family or your patients for these changes.

Find out what these changes mean for you and your family and what you need to do to continue receiving your Medicaid benefits.

Contact Charlotte Center
for Legal Advocacy
Becca Friedman (English)
Johanna Parra (Español )

Learn more about Medicaid Transformation in NC

Access to Care Under the Affordable Care Act

Despite misinformation, repeal attempts and significant budget cuts for outreach and advertising, the Affordable Care Act has enabled thousands of North Carolinians to receive affordable health insurance with protections from pre-existing condition exclusions and limits over the last nine years.

More North Carolinians would have access to affordable health coverage and care if the state were to expand it’s Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act by 2020, which would have provided $21 billion in federal tax dollars to the state and created 43,000 jobs.

Because the state has failed to expand its program, at least 200,000 N.C. residents fall into the Medicaid Gap, where their income is too high to qualify for the current Medicaid program while also being too low to qualify for financial assistance to purchase health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

Despite N.C.’s failure to expand Medicaid, the state’s uninsured rate is at 11 percent and continues to decrease. Last year, Mecklenburg County had the highest number of enrollments in the state with 60,229 residents enrolling in a Marketplace plan; 53,878 received financial assistance, and 16,655 enrolled for the first time.

There are still more than 1 million N.C. residents who remain uninsured but eligible for coverage with financial assistance.

Open Enrollment Nov. 1 – Dec. 15 2019

Navigators are available Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. across Cabarrus, Mecklenburg and Union counties, with enrollment events every Wednesday and Saturday. Make a free appointment today:

  • Call 1-855-733-3711

Learn more about the Health Insurance Navigator Project

Immigrant Access to Health Care in North Carolina

Over the last two years, immigrant families have been targeted by policy changes that have impacted their safety, security and stability.

As advocates for health care and immigrant families, we have the opportunity to fight fear with facts.


Immigrants — including naturalized citizens, lawfully present non-citizens and people who are undocumented — make up 13 percent of the U.S. population. The vast majority of children in immigrant families are U.S.-born citizens, which means they have access to the same health care and benefits as other U.S. citizen children.

Shift in Federal Immigration Policies

  • Increasing immigration enforcement
  • Removal of legal protections
  • Reducing access to public benefits

Impact on Health Care Access

  • Immigrant families, including those with lawful status, are experiencing resounding levels of fear and uncertainty.
  • Increased fears are having significant negative effects on the health and well-being of children that have lifelong consequences.
  • Immigrant families have growing concerns about participating in public programs.

What you can do

  • Understand these policies and how they impact our community
  • Help patients understand their health coverage options.
  • Make your voice heard! Hold policy makers accountable to protect and expand access to health care in our community.

Questions? Contact Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy

Class Action Notice: Hawkins v. Cohen

Hawkins v. Cohen (5:17-CV-581 E.D.N.C.) is a federal lawsuit filed in 2017 by Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy and the National Health Law Program to stop illegal terminations of Medicaid benefits in North Carolina. 

The Court hearing the case has certified it as a class action. This means that the Court’s orders protect all North Carolina Medicaid beneficiaries from having their Medicaid terminated improperly (including transfer to Medicaid that only covers family planning services). 

The Court has issued a preliminary injunction ordering the N.C. Medicaid agency and all 100 county Departments of Social Services (DSS) to stop terminating or reducing Medicaid coverage until eligibility under all Medicaid categories has been considered and advance notice of the right to a hearing has been mailed.  

The Court’s order prohibits automatic terminations without any notice by the state computer, NC FAST, because a county worker failed to process a review of the case in the month it was due. This often happens in the following circumstances:

The Order also prohibits failure to consider all Medicaid categories before Medicaid terminates. Specifically, beginning in April 2019, for persons receiving Medicaid as a child, caretaker of a child, or pregnant woman, DSS will have to send a notice giving that person the opportunity to allege disability and then apply for Medicaid based on disability even though the person already gets Medicaid. If that application based on disability is timely filed, DSS cannot terminate Medicaid for that person unless that application has been denied.  

If you have any questions about this lawsuit or about your rights, you may contact the attorneys who filed the case, the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy. You can reach these lawyers by calling this toll free number: 1-800-936-4971. You can also send the lawyers an email at hawkinsinfo@charlottelegaladvocacy.org.

You also may contact these lawyers if you want to report that you lost your Medicaid without a decision that you were no longer eligible for Medicaid under any category or without receiving advance written notice that your Medicaid would stop. There is no cost to you for any help that these lawyers provide to you.