“Back to school” means renewal season for free and reduced-price meals (FARMs) and other federal services to assist kids and their families in need.

But there’s a chill in the air this season. The Trump administration’s new “public charge” rule, scheduled to take effect October 15 over NASSP’s strong objection, expands the list of federal services whose use would count against an immigrant applying for a “green card,” or permanent residency. The new rule is an 897-page maze of legalese that details the programs, affected parties, and conditions that would activate a public-charge consideration. It would entertain an army of Beltway policy wonks for hours.

But low-income immigrant families are not so entertained. In fact, they’re terrified the complex new rule might tear apart their families for using services for which they are eligible—whether the rule applies to them or not. As a result, we anticipate many low-income immigrant families will retreat to the shadows and withdraw themselves and their children from services that help them stay healthy, fed, and prepared to learn each day.

While no principal—nor anyone but an attorney—should offer legal advice, a few of the rule’s bright lines provide you some direction for reassuring families in your community:

  • The new public charge rule applies only to certain immigrants, primarily those who are pursuing green-card status and those applying for a visa. Individuals and families who are already citizens, those who are refugees and asylees, or in certain other statuses, or who are undocumented without a path to citizenship are not affected by this rule. Current green card holders are only affected in certain circumstances.
  • School breakfast/lunch is specifically excludedfrom the list of services that trigger a public charge consideration. Nothing in the rule penalizes low-income immigrant families for applying for or receiving FARMs, regardless of immigration status. However, because use of SNAP can be considered, fewer families may be directly certified.
  • Use of Medicaid by children under 21 and pregnant women is also explicitly excluded from the list of services that trigger a public-charge consideration. (Use of Medicaid by parents can be counted.) This is an important message to deliver to families whose children receive services that are billed to Medicaid.  Only receipt of benefits by the immigrant who is applying for a visa or green card is counted. If parents are immigrants, but their children are citizens, the children’s use of benefits will not be counted against the parents.

The letter of the new rule speaks to a defined category of people, but its chilling effect will be pervasive. A principal’s word of reassurance might be all a family needs to muscle past fear, clarify their own legal status, and pursue the supports for which they are eligible to ensure their children—your students—succeed well into the future.

Thanks to Elizabeth Lower-Basch of the CLASP policy center and Connie Choi of the National Immigration Law Center for their technical assistance and review. For more details on the public charge rule and other immigration policies that affect your students, visit www.ProtectingImmigrantFamilies.org. The information provided in this article does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice. Readers should contact legal counsel to obtain advice with respect to the new rule and any related legal matter in the relevant jurisdiction.

About the Author

Bob Farrace is NASSP’s director of public affairs. Follow him on Twitter @bobfarrace.

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