November 2, 2018

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November Advocate: Changes to Public Charge Rule Will Increase Burden on Public Schools

In October, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security released a proposed regulation that could have a profoundly negative impact on the immigrant children you educate. 

The “public charge” regulation amends a policy that has been on the books for decades and is intended to ensure that immigrants who have entered the U.S. legally are not granted green cards or lawful permanent resident cards if they are “likely to become primarily dependent on the government for subsistence.” The Trump Administration is changing the definition of a “public charge” to anyone who receives any assistance with health care, nutrition or housing.

One in four children in the U.S. -- nearly 18 million children -- has at least one immigrant parent here legally. The vast majority of these children – about 88 percent or 16 million – are U.S. citizens. Under the proposed regulation, if a child’s parent is on a visa or is seeking lawful permanent resident status, he/she would be considered a “public charge” if they access Medicaid, food stamps or Section 8 housing vouchers at any period of time after the regulation is finalized. In addition, for the 12 percent of immigration children who are here on visas, they could lose a pathway to citizenship if they access Medicaid or potentially the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) in the future.

Ultimately, the new public charge policy articulated in the proposed rule would terrify immigrant families and deter these families with children from seeking the help they need to lead healthy and productive lives.

Why does this matter to school leaders?

Because of the complexity of the new regulation, it is predicted that families (not just a family member who would be considered a public charge) will refuse to participate in Medicaid/CHIP, SNAP (food stamps) and public housing programs like Section 8. Specifically, this means that families with children who qualify for healthcare, nutrition and housing benefits will forego accessing these benefits for fear it could jeopardize a family member’s path to citizenship.

Moreover, if a family is worried that a child with a visa could lose their pathway to citizenship if they access Medicaid/CHIP then they will also refuse to allow the district to bill for these health or related services. AASA believes that this moves federal policy in the wrong direction — instead of crafting policies that incentivize greater access for children’s healthcare and nutritional and housing benefits — this regulation will reduce the number of children who access these benefits.

For district leaders, there are financial consequences if families are afraid to access healthcare via Medicaid/CHIP. A child who is no longer seeing a physician outside of school could become more reliant on school-based healthcare providers to meet their basic healthcare needs. More children could come to school without necessary vaccinations and fewer parents will consent to billing Medicaid for health services related to a student’s IEP. Because the district still has an obligation to ensure children are healthy enough to learn, it will be forced to re-allocate local dollars to cover these costs since the district will not be granted permission by families to access Medicaid reimbursement for some of these expenses.

There are also financial consequences for districts if parents stop accessing food benefits via the SNAP program. Children who do not have access to proper nutrition outside the school will not come to school ready to learn. A child who has not eaten all weekend will come to school in a state of crisis and the district will be responsible for doing more to ensure that child’s nutritional needs are met during the school day. For example, districts may opt to send home food over the weekend, provide free breakfasts and dinners, and will pay for these new programs with local dollars.

Finally, the proposed regulation would deter eligible immigrant families from seeking much-needed housing and homelessness benefits. If families opt out of housing opportunities in the community and become homeless, families will experience increased housing instability, likely driving up homeless rates, increasing housing mobility, or both. Districts are already required to provide specific educational services for children under the McKinney-Vento Act to ensure that homeless children are able to continue to attend school. Given the under-funding of the McKinney-Vento Act, local dollars will have to be utilized to ensure districts meet the needs of a new and growing population of homeless students.  

What can you do to help?

AASA has developed a template for school leaders to use to push back against this regulation. Unfortunately, the comment process for this regulation is more complicated than usual given the way the Department of Homeland Security views comments. District leaders will be required to personalize their comments using the AASA template in order to submit their comments. All the information you need to comment is available here. In addition, you can reach out to Sasha Pudelski (spudelski@aasa.org) and she can provide direct technical assistance to you on submitting comments as well as submit them for you


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