Photo credit: Jae C. Hong/AP

Earlier this month, we were very pleased to see that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a joint letter on public charge, clarifying that receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits is not a public charge determination – and that states should conduct outreach to immigrants and mixed-status households to ensure eligible families can safely apply for SNAP.

Last summer, we called on USDA to issue such guidance last year as the “chilling effect” of public charge has had a devastating impact on immigrant families enrolling for nutrition benefits they are eligible for. 

In Texas alone, the SNAP program saw a 13.5 percent reduction in enrollment between December 2017 and April 2019, and WIC had lost 18.8 percent of its caseload. One report found that because of the public charge’s “chilling effect,” immigrants were the most afraid to access the SNAP program compared to other federal nutrition programs.

Children of immigrants are a quarter of all children in the U.S. and the fastest-growing group of children in America. Despite the fact that the vast majority are U.S. citizens, children of immigrants experience food insecurity – uncertain access to enough food – at higher rates than other children because of their parents’ immigration status.

When children lack the necessary resources for consistent access to healthy food, they are at risk for malnutrition and other adverse health, educational, and developmental consequences. Since SNAP helps parents put food on the table for the whole family, it is a vital defense against childhood food insecurity.

We hope that — due to this guidance of USDA and USCIS — more eligible immigrant and mixed-status families will enroll in the SNAP program which will ensure that children have the proper nutrition they need to grow and thrive.