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COVID-19 Test Application Worries Immigrants

A person in a face shield is holding a test swab up to a car window.
Charlie Neibergall
A health worker performs a COVID-19 test at a Test Iowa site at Waukee South Middle School on July 14 in Waukee.

Uninsured Iowans can be tested for COVID-19 by applying through the Department of Human Services (DHS). But one question on the application concerns the immigrant community.

As part of the application process to get a COVID-19 test through Medicaid in Iowa, people are required to answer if they have a Social Security number and if not, why. The application offers a list of possible reasons which include ineligibility, waiting for approval, religious beliefs and others.

Jazmin Newton-Butt is the Deputy State Director for the Iowa League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and an attorney. She said the question puts people in a complex situation, especially because it is hard for immigrants to trust the government at this point in time.

“Because of that lack of trust, the question on whether or not they have a Social Security number, or more importantly why one does not have one, certainly can be frightening to the immigrant community because they don't know how this information is going to be used," Newton-Butt said.

She said there really isn’t anything that prevents one government agency from obtaining information from another. Although DHS said that is not the purpose of the question.

The Rights and Responsibilities attached to the application include information about requiring Social Security numbers. The form says DHS "can give help only to people who give us their Social Security number (SSN) or proof of application from the Social Security office, and we will deny assistance to the people for whom you do not give us a SSN. There are some exceptions to this.”

The attachment also goes into detail about how the information given on the application can be checked by other federal and state agencies, but DHS said the main purpose is to provide uninsured Iowans free COVID-19 testing.

According to TestIowa, testing is an integral part of combating the spread of COVID-19 in Iowa. This means it is important for all people to be tested, whether or not they are insured, and regardless of their citizenship status.

Newton-Butt said that's why immigrants are faced with a small dilemma: "Certainly we wouldn't necessarily discourage anyone [from testing] but then it's like competing interest when we see the only way they can be tested is if they answer these questions."

As of now, Newton-Butt said LULAC has not heard of a situation in which someone skips the questions, and whether that prevents them from obtaining a free COVID-19 test. But as more people face unemployment and loss of healthcare benefits, more people may need to rely on COVID-19 testing for the uninsured.