New “Public Charge” Rule: The Impact on Students, Families, Schools, and Communities

Education and civil rights advocates are in agreement: Students who are immigrants and those whose parents are immigrants should not have their citizenship status jeopardized when they receive public assistance. However, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) disagrees. Just last week, DHS issued a final rule that is set to go into effect on October 15.

What is the public charge rule?

Late last year, NCLD submitted comments in strong opposition to DHS’s proposed rule relating to “inadmissibility on public charge grounds” (which was published on October 10, 2018). “Public charge” is the term used to refer to an individual who is primarily dependent upon the federal government for subsistence. For example, they might receive cash assistance, receive care through a government-run institution, or receive other care at the government’s expense. Under the public charge rule, individuals who are considered likely to become a public charge may be denied admission to the United States or may be denied permanent resident status.

How is the rule changing?

Now, the new rule expands the types of assistance that will be considered when determining whether a person is considered to be a public charge. Going forward, services that are commonly used by people with disabilities will be considered in this determination. This means that individuals who use programs such as Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (SNAP or food stamps), and Section 8 housing vouchers and project-based rental assistance might be more likely to be denied permanent resident status or have their citizenship denied.

What will be the impact?

This rule can greatly harm immigrant families, especially those with an adult or child who has a disability, regardless of whether that child is a citizen or the parent is residing in the country lawfully. This new rule increases the likelihood that someone using public benefits will be determined to be a public charge. As a result, those individuals will be more likely to avoid using or disenroll from critically needed medical services and housing assistance, jeopardizing their health and well-being.

In fact, before this new rule was in effect, a poll by the Urban Institute revealed that 20.7 percent of adults in low-income immigrant families reported that either they or a family member did not participate in a noncash government benefit program in 2018 for fear of risking future green card eligibility. Just as the pollsters hypothesized in May 2019, “it is reasonable to expect that chilling effects will likely expand” when the rule is implemented.

Impact on schools
Children with disabilities who are in need of health and other services may be prevented from receiving those services if their families are in fear of the public charge determination. Many children with disabilities receive health-care services through Medicaid, and many schools fund essential personnel — such as school nurses or counselors — through Medicaid. In order for a school to bill for Medicaid funds, parents must consent. But if parents are fearful of the consequences, schools may be unable or less likely to bill for these services, thereby reducing essential health-related services in schools. Additionally, if Medicaid funds are not able to cover the cost of school nurses or other personnel, districts will have to find other ways to pay for these services, further depleting district and school budgets.

Impact on communities
If these changes lead many people to decline needed health and other services, this will also create a ripple effect that will drive up costs for states and local communities. Removing access to medical care, housing, or food assistance can be expected to lead to increased use of costly emergency department services, temporary hospitalizations, and complex late-stage treatment that could have been avoided if individuals received far less costly preventive care and housing assistance.

As an organization that works on behalf of students with disabilities and their families, we are disappointed in the administration and we oppose this rule, as it will only serve to further isolate immigrant families, prevent their children from receiving needed services, and create a system that is less responsive to the needs of children and families. 

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