Monday, February 17, 2014
Immigration reform in the United States is one of those hot-button political, social, and economic issues that just will not go away. As the policy makers and commentators duke it out on Capitol Hill and in the media, and as melting pot advocates and xenophobes exchange barbs on Internet forums, immigrants continue to stream into the US – legally or otherwise. There is simply no denying that immigrants – legal and undocumented alike – play a significant part in the U.S. economy. Though many people still seem to hold to the stereotype that immigrants are for the most part relegated to low-paying, menial jobs that “no one else wants,” immigrants in the US are also very well represented in science, technology, engineering and medicine (STEM) occupations. There is also no denying that like everyone else, immigrants must deal with day to day realities that often seem to escape the notice of the politicians and pundits. Childcare is one of those issues. And since US childcare policy is always subject to change, it is particularly important for immigrants to stay current on these matters.
According to statistics provided by the government, one in four young children in the United States lives in an immigrant family. Many, though certainly not all, of these families may need childcare assistance. Federal law establishes policies on immigrant eligibility for childcare assistance, but many people remain confused by eligibility requirements, particularly since these requirements may vary by state and county.
Where the funding comes from
Most childcare assistance in the US is funded through the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant, each of which has its own rules regarding immigrant eligibility.
· CCDBG funded childcare
For CCDBG funded childcare, only the child’s immigration status determines his or her eligibility for subsidies. Federal guidelines state, “For implementing the verification requirements mandated by title IV of PRWORA, only the citizenship and immigration status of the child, who is the primary beneficiary of the childcare benefit, is relevant for eligibility purposes.” In other words, regardless of a parent’s immigration status, citizen children and “qualified” immigrant children may be eligible for childcare assistance.
· TANF funded childcare
Federal TANF assistance – and this includes TANF-funded childcare, is generally denied to legal immigrants during their first five years in the United States. There are, however, limited exceptions. And many states use state funds or CCDBG funds to cover immigrants during that initial five -year period. A mixed status household – where there is at least one citizen and one non-citizen family member – is a different story. A citizen child may be eligible for federally funded TANF cash assistance even if her or his parents and other family members are ineligible. But in most states, TANF-subsidized childcare is considered to be serving the needs of the parent, and therefore is not available to an unqualified immigrant parent.
A shaky future for many families
One problem facing many families, immigrant or otherwise, is the devastating impact of sequestration on the federal Head Start program. The government cut $115 million from the childcare subsidy system, which only made the problem of inadequate funding much worse. For years the system had failed to keep up with the rising cost of childcare, which created enough of a problem, but the funding cuts made things even worse by forcing some families out of quality childcare programs. Moreover, funding cuts eliminated nearly 60,000 children from the Head Start program in 2013, with the result that some centers had to shut down some of their classrooms or close their doors entirely.
Policies can be complicated and, as noted above, are always subject to change. Although all US families need to pay attention to the issues regarding childcare and other family policies in the US, immigrants often face unique challenges, so it pays for them to make an extra effort to stay current on policies. Immigration lawyers also need to be cognizant of current policies, recent changes and pending legislation.
· For official government information on US immigration reform efforts, see http://www.whitehouse.gov/issues/immigration
· For information on US policies and policy reform for low-income families, see http://clasp.org.
· For general information on how immigration policy impacts immigrants, see this 2012 report: http://www.americanprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/DrebyImmigrationFamiliesFINAL.pdf
· For information and resources on international immigration (migration) policies, see http://www.migrationpolicy.org/