This new report examines the effects of current federal policies around legal immigrants’ access to public health benefits, highlights barriers to eligible immigrant families accessing social services, and outlines 12 response strategies to mitigate adverse impacts of policies.

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In response to the Trump Administration’s proposed “public charge rule” and other immigration and enforcement policies, NYU’s Institute of Human Development and Social Change (IHDSC) released a report reinforcing the need for protecting immigrant children’s access to essential safety net programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP or food stamps), Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and public housing assistance that are vital to supporting children’s development and well-being. The report examines the effects of current federal policies around legal immigrants’ access to public health benefits, highlights barriers to eligible immigrant families accessing social services, and outlines 12 response strategies to mitigate adverse impacts of policies.

Additional Context
Millions of low-income immigrant and mixed-status working families depend on public safety net programs to supplement their earnings. SNAP alone keeps nearly 5 million children out of poverty each year in the United States, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. SNAP has also been found to reduce the risk of low-birth weight, improve the health of newborns, and is associated with multiple positive health outcomes through adolescence and adulthood. The proposed regulation published in the Federal Register by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security last October would restrict immigrant access to these programs.

“The current Administration’s immigration and enforcement policies have created a climate of fear and harm to children’s development – not only from the well-known separations of children from parents, but from more pervasive threats to children’s access to safety-net programs,” said Hirokazu Yoshikawa, co-author of the report and Courtney Sale Ross Professor of Globalization and Education at NYU Steinhardt. “Policy makers and practitioners can take concrete steps to protect millions of children in immigrant families.”

Barriers and Solutions to Access
The report points to five significant long-standing barriers low-income immigrant families face when attempting to access social services: ineligibility due to their immigration status, fear of deportation and family separation and the resulting ‘chilling effect,’ lack of transportation and physical mobility, and language barriers. The chilling effect refers to the indirect effects of new polices which can sometimes reduce eligibility for certain categories of immigrants.

As a solution, the report highlights 12 strategies to support mixed-status and immigrant families in gaining access to public benefits. Among the strategies included:

  • States can simplify enrollment in public benefits by linking enrollment process for multiple programs. Applicants qualified for one program are often qualified for and apply to another for a different service (e.g. the same person can apply for WIC, SNAP, and Medicaid/CHIP).
  • Develop partnerships between government and community-based organizations (CBOs). Since CBOs are embedded within local communities, they are well-positioned to perform outreach. For example, Massachusetts previously contracted with CBOs to provide SNAP application assistance and outreach. This proved effective.
  • Create ‘Offices of Immigrant Affairs’ that serve as executive coordinating agencies dedicated to overseeing policy implementation, interagency relations, and public outreach on state benefits for immigrants to better protect themselves and provide for their families. New York City and Los Angeles both have such offices.
  • To mitigate actual and perceived fear of ICE enforcement on undocumented immigrants, states can decouple federal immigration detention and removal proceedings from local law enforcement for different types of offenses.
  • ‘Safe Space’ designation for undocumented immigrants could be expanded to a range of settings where immigrants may access benefits. Currently, schools and churches are considered safe spaces where it is understood that federal officers cannot enter to detain undocumented immigrants. This can be expanded to include additional settings such as hospitals, health clinics, CBOs, and early childhood centers – all of which may be locations for enrollment in or recertification of benefits.

In addition to Yoshikawa, the report was co-authored by IHDSC Associate Research Scientist and former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Human Services Policy at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Ajay Chaudry, Interim Director of Columbia University’s National Center for Children in Poverty Heather Koball, NYU Steinhardt doctoral student Trenel Francis, and Harvard University doctoral student Sarah Rendón García.

“The sea of changes that have occurred and threatened immigration and public benefit policies have been de-stabilizing for millions of U.S. children in immigrant families," said Chaudry, the report’s co-author. “This has given rise to heightened fear, confusion, and disruption around the rules governing what are truly essential supports for children’s development and their hard working families’ economic security. States and localities have an obligation to develop approaches that protect children’s continued access and mitigate the attendant harms of lost supports.”

The full report can be viewed online at https://steinhardt.nyu.edu/ihdsc/research/mitigating_strategies.

The report was funded by the William T. Grant Foundation, and reviewed by the Center for Law and Social Policy, the National Immigration Law Center, and the Migration Policy Institute.

About the Institute of Human Development and Social Change
The Institute of Human Development and Social Change (IHDSC) is the largest interdisciplinary institute on New York University’s Washington Square campus. A joint initiative of NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development; NYU Wagner School of Public Service; NYU Graduate School of Arts and Science; and NYU’s Office of the Provost, IHDSC aims to break new ground through support for rigorous research and training across social, behavioral, educational, policy, and health sciences. Learn more about IHDSC at https://steinhardt.nyu.edu/ihdsc/.