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This Newsbrief gives our sense of important and timely federal educational news within the following process and 
protest context
To advance educational excellence and equity, we must prioritize the needs of our most vulnerable students and communities. To accomplish this goal, we need clear processes for the development of policy, and we need to take into account opposition to current and proposed policies and practices — protest — as a healthy part of those processes.  

Federal Update

Proposed Rule Threatens Access to Food and Medical Care for Immigrant Children

October 12, 2018

The Issue

Two days ago, the Trump administration published a proposed federal rule that threatens to deny legal status to immigrants in our country if they apply for any of a wide variety of government aid programs. The rule does not mention the free and reduced-price meal program in schools, but does include out-of-school supports including Medicaid, food stamps, and housing vouchers.
This proposed rule has been in the works for months, and has been analyzed in detail by organizations concerned about the impact of the rule on schools and students.

What’s new about this proposed rule?
Under the current rules, which have been in place for about 20 years, when the federal government is deciding whether to grant legal status to an immigrant, it can factor into its decision whether that immigrant is likely to be a “public charge.” The current definition of “public charge” is a person who is likely to depend on the government for “cash assistance” for their income, and/or is likely to need long-term medical care at government expense.

The new rule proposes to expand the definition of “public charge” to take into account usage of a much greater range of benefits, including food assistance programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP; also known as “food stamps”), health programs such as Medicaid, housing assistance programs, and health insurance subsidies.

What are the practical applications of this change?
The rule is expected to force many immigrant households to choose between getting the help U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents need to afford food, health care, and housing, and risking their or their family members’ chances at being legally allowed to stay in the country or become citizens. Many communities are already showing significant reductions in the number of immigrant families applying for food assistance and health insurance, presumably out of fear that doing so may trigger their deportation from the United States.

The Migration Policy Institute estimates that under the proposed rule almost half of the U.S. non-citizen population would be at risk of being identified as a “public charge”… up from 3 percent now.

The new rule would also greatly increase the federal government’s ability to deny legal status to immigrant families with incomes or financial assets below 250 percent of the poverty line. This threshold is roughly $62,000 in household income for a family of four. The Migration Policy Institute estimates that 56 percent of the legally present immigrants who arrived within the past five years would not meet this standard, as well as 40 percent of U.S.-born persons.

The Department of Homeland Security, in the text of the proposed rule, acknowledges the following are all likely to result if the rule is finalized:

  • Worse health outcomes, including increased prevalence of obesity and malnutrition, especially for pregnant or breastfeeding women, infants, or children, and reduced prescription adherence.

  • Increased use of emergency rooms and emergent care as a method of primary health care due to delayed treatment.

  • Increased prevalence of communicable diseases, including among members of the U.S. citizen population who are not vaccinated.

  • Increases in uncompensated care in which a treatment or service is not paid for by an insurer or patient.

  • Increased rates of poverty and housing instability.

  • Reduced productivity and educational attainment.

Local city governments are also anticipating some of these effects.

What does this mean for schools?
The proposed rule is in tension with reports issued by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a federal agency under the United States Department of Health and Human Services, that detail the strong evidentiary link between the health of students and their academic achievement.

Experts anticipate the rule will have the following impacts on students and schools if finalized in its current form:

  • More children showing up to school hungry because their parents have not enrolled in food stamps, or have disenrolled to avoid government scrutiny.

  • Increased student absences from school, due to immigrant families declining to enroll their children in health programs, or taking them out of these programs.

  • A potential drop in funding for school-based health centers, due to expected drops in the number of people in the general population who will enroll in Medicaid and in related childrens’ public health programs.

  • Decreases in enrollment in publicly funded early childhood education programs, like the Head Start program even though these programs are not covered by the proposed rule. It is expected that immigrant families will “play it safe” and not enroll their children, even if their children’s participation will not officially be held against them.


The Process

Now that the proposed rule has been published in the Federal Register, a 60-day time limit for public comment on the proposal has started.

Public comments on this proposed rule must be submitted to the Federal Register by the deadline of December 10, 2018. After the deadline closes, the Trump administration is supposed to consider the public comments it has received and decide whether to make any changes to the proposed rule.


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