What School Districts Need to Know About The New Public Charge Regulations
February 3, 2020
The Public Charge provision has been a longstanding part of U.S. immigration policy. Under longstanding regulations, if an individual was likely to become a “public charge” based on their receipt of “public benefits,” that person could be denied entry or permanent residency to the United States. On August 14, 2019, the Department of Homeland Security promulgated a controversial new Public Charge Rule that expanded the definition of “public benefit.” Previously, only cash benefits were considered. Now, under the new rule, officials must consider non-cash benefits as part of its analysis for granting and denying applications.
The new rule was challenged in litigation and immediate implementation of the rule was barred by nationwide preliminary injunction orders entered by federal district courts within the Ninth, Fourth, and Second Circuits. The Ninth and Fourth Circuit Courts of Appeals lifted the nationwide injunctions. The Second Circuit affirmed the nationwide preliminary injunction. However, on January 27, 2020, the United States Supreme Court voted (5-4) to stay the Second Circuit’s preliminary injunction order, permitting the Department of Homeland Security to implement the new controversial public charge regulations while litigation challenging their validity is ongoing. The following Q&A addresses questions about the new public charge regulations that are likely to be posed by school officials:
Who do the new rules apply to?
This rule applies to individuals seeking admission to the United States or permanent residency (Green Card status). This rule does not apply to naturalization proceedings; refugees; asylum seekers; and individuals enlisted in the Ready Reserve, or serving in active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces.
What public benefits are considered in the new public charge regulations?
- Any Federal, State, local or tribunal cash assistance, including Supplemental Security Income “SSI”; Temporary Assistance for Needy Families “TANF”; and General Assistance programs
- Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program “SNAP”
- Medicaid for adults (see below)
- Section 8 housing assistance and rental assistance
What public benefits are not included in the new public charge regulations?
Notwithstanding this potential chilling effect of the regulations, as described below, it is important for schools to understand that most public benefits for children are expressly excluded from the new public charge regulations. The following public benefits are not included in the public charge analysis:
What about the “chilling” effect of the new regulations?
Notwithstanding the exclusion of many benefits for children, school districts nonetheless need to familiarize themselves with the parameters of the new public charge regulations because parents and caregivers may be reluctant to permit their children to receive school-based benefits, due to fear of immigration-related consequences. Many education advocacy groups, including the National School Boards Association (NSBA), have opposed the new public charge regulations based on research that indicates that programs such as SNAP, Medicaid, CHIP, and housing assistance in childhood help children complete their education and have higher incomes as adults, live in stable housing, receive needed health services and consume adequate and nutritious food, and fosters their future success in education and the workforce. The overwhelming concern of school groups is that these policy changes will have a “chilling effect.” In particular, commenters fear that the rule will cause aliens and citizens to either disenroll from public benefit programs or forego enrollment in public benefit programs.1 Disenrollment is projected to happen even in programs that are not included in the public charge analysis, such as Medicaid-reimbursable IDEA services and school lunch/breakfast programs. The School Superintendents Association commented that this disenrollment could occur because immigrant families “do not understand the rule’s details and would fear their or their children’s enrollment could negatively affect their or their family members’ immigration status.”2
Of course, it should be remembered that that children who are living in the United States have a right to attend public schools, regardless of their immigration status.3 Schools are legally prohibited from asking about a student’s or family’s immigration status.
1 See Fed. Reg. 41501, at 41310.
2 Comment to proposed rule, The School Superintendents Association (Dec. 1, 2018), available here.
3 Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202 (1982).