Issue #9: Public Charge

Public Charge rule changes could be problematic for child development and education.

The big picture: Recently proposed changes to the “public charge” rule would affect how immigration decisions are made and could cut off immigrant children and potentially others in their families from critical health care, early education, food, and housing services. When children lose these benefits, it can have negative consequences for their health and development, including their comfort level in coming to school.

Currently, the federal government looks at immigrants’ use of three public programs when it considers granting someone permanent residence status (the idea is that someone is a “public charge” if they use a lot of government services): Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and long-term institutional care. The Trump administration proposal would allow the federal government to also consider how much someone uses additional programs, like certain elements of Medicaid, SNAP (formerly food stamps), and housing assistance, when making decisions about granting residency. Opponents are concerned this could make immigrants afraid to enroll in programs that they and their families desperately need for fear of endangering their immigration status. Education experts and advocates in have expressed concerns about the impact this could have on children. Opponents also note community-level impacts on states and local areas that are left with fewer federal dollars to address the same amount of need. Not only will they have to provide additional services when families cannot access federal programs, state and local governments receive funding for certain programs and initiatives based on federal calculations. So if there is an undercount in the federal benefit program, there will be an undercount in funding allocations for other programs as well. At the same time, the loss of access to services means some families and individuals won’t get the care they need at all, which has costly repercussions both from a financial (lack of health insurance means increased use of costly emergency room visits) and human perspective (fewer safe housing options for those without housing assistance). Proponents of this policy change argue it fosters self-sufficiency among immigrants.

On the horizon: There are a number of steps before changes to the public charge policy could take effect – including a public comment period that closed in early December, during which more than 210,000 people submitted feedback.

Immigration policy is a clear priority for the Trump administration, and we will monitor additional actions related to public charge in 2019.