This is a Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) information guide for immigrants who want to know more about how the issue of public charge might affect their ability to access healthcare and other services during this COVID-19 outbreak. The Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs will continue updating this site as developments occur.
1. I suspect I have a COVID-19 infection, what should I do?
If you have symptoms of COVID-19 or questions, you can call:
King County Novel Coronavirus Call Center, (206) 477-3977. This helpline is open from 8 a.m.–7 p.m. every day.
Washington State Novel Coronavirus Call Center, (800) 525-0127 and press #. This helpline is open from 6 a.m.–10 p.m. every day. The operators are able to connect with a third-party interpreter.
2. Do hospitals and clinics share citizenship or immigration status information with ICE?
No. The federal law known as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) generally prohibits the use or disclosure of patient information without the patient’s consent. Additionally, health care providers are not legally required to report to federal immigration authorities about a patient’s immigration status.
3. I am undocumented and have been financially affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. What programs and services can I apply for and access without showing my documentation?
Residential evictions for non-payment of rent are temporarily halted in the city of Seattle. This is effective immediately and will last for 30 days or until Seattle’s COVID-19 Civil Emergency ends.
Utilities will not be shut off during this outbreak. Seattle Public Utilities (SPU), Seattle City Light (SCL), and Puget Sound Energy (PSE) will keep utility services on during the COVID-19 Civil Emergency in Seattle. SPU and SCL customers who have been financially impacted by COVID-19, regardless of background or immigration status, can request a deferred payment plan that includes reversed late fees. SPU and SCL recommends that customers should as soon as possible call (206) 684-3000 or send an email anytime at seattle.gov/utilities/about-us/email-question.
PSE is waiving late fees for customers who can find more information at PSE’s COVID-19 Response page.
The Utility Discount Program (UDP) lowers Seattle City Light bills by 60 percent and Seattle Public Utility bills by 50 percent. To learn more about enrollment in UDP, call (206) 684-0268 or go to: seattle.gov/humanservices/services-and-programs/affordability-and-livability/utility-discount-program.
4. I just became unemployed because of the outbreak. Do I qualify for unemployment insurance?
It depends. The Washington State Employment Security Department (ESD) administers programs designed to help workers impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak, including unemployment benefits. You do need a valid social security number to apply.
ESD also has an easy-to-read comparison guide listing some of the most common scenarios that may occur and benefits that may apply. More information for workers and businesses here: esd.wa.gov/newsroom/covid-19.
5. Will receiving an unemployment benefit threaten my ability to apply for a green card or citizenship under the new public charge rules?
No. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has specifically stated that unemployment insurance benefits paid to an immigrant worker are not considered in the public charge determination. Washington state administers the unemployment benefit insurance program, which is funded primarily through local sources.
More information for workers here: esd.wa.gov/newsroom/covid-19.