KASB asks DHS to withdraw public charge proposal

KASB is urging the Department of Homeland Security to withdraw a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that could cause thousands of Kansas schoolchildren to lose access to healthcare, nutrition and other programs, damaging their ability to learn. 

The Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds Proposed Rule is designed to discourage legally-authorized immigrants who are seeking Legal Permanent Resident (“green card”) status from applying for programs like Medicaid, CHIP (children’s health insurance), SNAP (formerly called “food stamps”) and some housing assistance programs. Doing so could cause them to be classified as a “Public Charge.”  

“Public Charge” is a term used in immigration law to refer to a person who could be primarily dependent on the government to meet their basic needs. Being designated as a “Public Charge” has in the past been used to disqualify  a person from being admitted to the United States as a legal immigrant.  

Although the proposed rule may on the surface be assumed to be an attempt to curb illegal immigration, in its current form the proposal has a much broader affect because its provisions also encompass legal immigrants living in the United States, including students who were born in the United States to immigrant parents. 

At this time, the use or potential use of two programs, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Section 8 housing, can result in an applicant being labeled a “public charge.” The Proposed Rule, if adopted as written (at more than 180 pages) expands the list of programs that could result in a public charge designation and would take effect as a regulation administered by DHS. Before the regulation can take effect, DHS must review and respond to each unique public comment it receives on the proposal. Public comments must be submitted by December 10. 

While KASB does not have legislative policy on immigration, its member-adopted policies on student health and wellbeing are the basis for its comments on the Proposed Rule. 

Should the Rule take effect as proposed, “Kansas schools will likely see increased numbers of students whose families will choose to not participate in or disenroll from healthcare, nutrition and other government programs for fear of jeopardizing their immigration status,” KASB says in its comments. “As a result, many U.S.-citizen Kansas school children may not have access to the health and nutrition programs that improve their educational abilities and achievement.” 

KASB notes in its comments that between 2010 and 2014, 1 in 18 children in Kansas was a U.S.-citizen child living with at least one undocumented family member (42,661 children in total). That’s roughly 11 percent of the state’s K-12 public-school enrollment. “Kansas public schools do not collect student citizenship status data; they are legally required, however, to provide an education to all children who present themselves at the schoolhouse door,” KASB says. 

The nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) estimates that 15 to 35 percent of Medicaid and CHIP enrollees could drop out of those programs if the Public Charge rule is adopted. In Kansas, that could result in 640-1493 U.S.-citizen Kansas students losing health insurance benefits. Kaiser also estimates that additional immigrant families, including those with U.S.-born children in Kansas public schools, will disenroll from Medicaid or CHIP because of increased fear and confusion about their status under the proposal.  

Student health/impact on learning 

“Kansas students’ overall health directly affects their ability to come to school ready to learn,” KASB states. “For example, many Kansas school children receive prescription medications or optometry services that are important to their daily lives and are currently covered by their parents’ health insurance, including Medicaid. CHIP offers free or low-cost health coverage for children from working families. Nearly 40,000 Kansas children, many of whom attend our public schools, are covered by CHIP. If immigrant families in Kansas disenroll from Medicaid, CHIP, or other assistance programs because of the proposed ‘public charge’ definition expansion, Kansas public schools will almost certainly feel the impact.”  

Student Nutrition/Achievement 

The Proposed Rule adds the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to the list of programs that may be considered in determining whether to designate a person as a “public charge.” While the Proposed Rule exempts from the “public charge” definition the use of SNAP by children under the age of 18, KASB and other education advocates are concerned that the fear and confusion surrounding the NPRM may nonetheless prompt eligible families to disenroll from SNAP in order to preserve their immigration status. 

“In addition, although federal school meals programs are not specifically mentioned in the NPRM, KASB fears that low-income families who qualify for those services (which are dependent on dollar amount thresholds and could potentially be considered to be ‘monetized benefits’ under the complex Proposed Rule) will decide NOT to apply for free- or reduced-price school breakfast, lunch or snacks to avoid jeopardizing their LPR or visa status,” KASB notes.  

“For many low-income children in Kansas and nationwide, school meals are their best source of nutritious food. School board members are concerned that if families forgo access to those meals due to immigration status concerns, already-vulnerable low-income immigrant Kansas students – including those who are legal U.S. citizens – will come to school hungry.” 

In Kansas, the percentage of students on free or reduced-price meal status ranges from less than 10 percent in some school districts to nearly 90 percent in others.  

“Regardless of the Administration’s intended immigration policy goals, this proposed rule is likely to have a strongly negative impact on the educational achievement of thousands of Kansas school children,” KASB concludes. “We therefore urge the Department to withdraw it. Failing that, the Department should thoroughly research the intended and unintended consequences of this NPRM, make substantive revisions, and resubmit it for additional public comment.” Here is a link to KASB’s full comments.

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