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Category: Policy and Legislation

NCL Partners with Census Counts

NCL Partners with Census Counts

As part of its Census-related activity, the NCL has recently become a partner with Census Counts, a collaborative effort that is part of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. The partnership includes access to many useful resources and news updates, as well as participation in the Census Task Force. Here are two news updates of interest:

1. The Supreme Court will likely take up the citizenship question on Friday of this week. See this blog post for more.

2. Several bills on the Census have been introduced in the 116th Congress. Two that merit special attention are HR 732, the Census IDEA Act (introduced by Representative Maloney, 57 cosponsors) and S 358, the Census IDEA Act (introduced by Senator Schatz, 18 cosponsors). For a full list of all the bills that have been introduced and links to the bill texts, see the current issue of Democracy Download, the newsletter of Common Cause.

Feel free to read and use the Census Counts resources, and consider signing the #SaveTheCensus pledge!

CEF Testimony on Federal Education Investments

CEF Testimony on Federal Education Investments

This morning, Sarah Abernathy, Deputy Executive Director of the Committee for Education Funding, is testifying on the importance of federal education investments to the nation’s economic and national security at a 10am House Budget Committee hearing in room 210 Cannon House Office Building. The testimony describes public support for investments in education, the returns on these investments to both students and society, the need for greater education funding and how the caps on non-defense discretionary (NDD) funding have constrained those investments, and why Congress therefore needs to raise the NDD caps. Without an increase in the cap, NDD funding will be cut by $55 billion (9 percent) in the coming fiscal year; the effective cut to existing NDD programs is actually 11% when you factor in new funding Congress needs to provide for the decennial Census and the VA Choice program next year. 

The full testimony is available on the CEF website here.

NDD United (the organization that CEF co-chairs that supports greater non-defense discretionary funding for the range of NDD programs) is urging people to tweet using #RaiseTheCaps in reference to the NDD caps, and #CutsHurt. 

The House Budget Committee will webcast the hearing here. You can retweet the livestream once the Committee tweets the link in the morning.  If you direct your tweets at the House Budget Committee by tagging them (include “@HouseBudgetDems” in your tweet), they are more likely to see it and retweet it and have it reach their 12,500 followers. Below is a list of Twitter accounts to consider retweeting during the hearing. Please feel free to retweet others with your photos of student in labs or classrooms, teachers, etc., or relevant charts or artwork!

@edfunding – CEF’s Twitter account.  We will be tweeting facts, quotes, and charts during the hearing

@HouseBudgetDems – the House Budget Committee majority. It will share the livestream of the hearing, and tweet key statements by Members of Congress and witnesses

@NDDUnited – NDD United will share how funding cuts have impacted vital services

Shutdown vs. Social Safety Net

Shutdown vs. Social Safety Net

The Partial Shutdown of the Federal Government Has Devastating Effects on Adults with Low Levels of Literacy and Numeracy

Numerous news articles and blog posts over the past few weeks have underscored the magnitude of the impact that the partial federal shutdown is having on low-wage workers and adults who are unemployed or under-employed. Not always recognized, but pivotal, is the connection with adult literacy and numeracy. As the National Skills Coalition relates in its report Foundational Skills in the Service Sector:

NSC’s data show that workers with low skills overwhelmingly have low earnings. Overall, 78% — nearly four in five service sector workers with low skills — fall into one of the two lowest earnings quintiles. … Low earnings are a problem for all workers with basic skills gaps, but they are especially problematic in the service sector. In particular, among workers with low literacy across all industries, 29% are in the bottom quintile for earnings, while among service sector workers with low literacy the percentage is substantially worse, at 38%. The numbers are similar for the second-lowest earnings quintile, with 33% of all low-literate workers and 39% of low-literate service sector workers falling into this category. (p. 14)

The shutdown’s negative effects on low-wage workers are thus of significant concern to the adult basic education and adult ESL communities as well.

Safety Net Programs

The Department of Agriculture provides food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Child Nutrition Programs, and the Supplemental Nutrition and Safety Programs, which include the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations, among others. The department has found ways to continue providing this assistance through February, according to a press release from the Secretary’s office. If the shutdown continues into March, many low-income families will lose this essential nutrition support.

The Rural Housing Service at the Department of Agriculture helps low-income rural residents pay their housing costs. According to the National Rural Housing Coalition, the agency

Provides a rental housing subsidy to very low income households, elderly households, and persons with disabilitiesOver 270,000 families receive this assistance from USDA. The last rental assistance payments were made in December 2018. There is not any information available for January payments. Without those payments, housing for these families will be in jeopardy.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development provides critical housing support through the Section 8 voucher program. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition,

An immediate result of the shutdown is HUD’s inability to renew federal contracts for 650 Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance (PBRA) properties, housing tens of thousands of low-income renters, that have expired since the government shutdown began. Additional contracts will expire later in January and February, should the shutdown continue for that long, as HUD does not have funding to renew contracts while the government is shut down.

The NLIHC also has a state-by-state breakdown of the shutdown’s effect on low-income housing.

The Department of the Interior provides supports for native American tribes through the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Services include economic development programs, law enforcement, road maintenance, and disaster relief. Without an appropriation (and with 76 percent of its employees furloughed), Interior is largely unable to provide these supports.

Many of the operating divisions of the Department of Health and Human Services have been funded for 2019 through the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriation that was passed in the fall of 2018. However, according to the department’s contingency plan, many of the HHS-administered programs that support needy citizens rely on the appropriations for the Agriculture and Interior departments and thus are not currently funded.

  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families: TANF helps families with children meet their basic needs. According to the Center for Law and Social Policy, “TANF is funded through a mixture of federal funds and state ‘maintenance of effort’ (MOE) funds, so states can continue to provide benefits and services using state funds or unspent previously appropriated federal funds.” It is not clear how long states will be able to do this, however.
  • The Indian Health Service: The IHS provides health care for Native Americans and Alaska Natives. With the lapse in funding for the Department of the Interior, per the HHS Contingency Plan, IHS continues “to provide direct clinical health care services,” but “IHS would be unable to provide the majority of funds to tribes and Urban Indian Health programs.”

Civil Rights and Consumer Protections

The Department of Justice FY 2019 Continency Plan notes that “a significant portion of the Department’s mission relates to the safety of human life and the protection of property, and primarily for this reason, the Department has a high percentage of activities and employees that are excepted from the Antideficiency Act restrictions and can continue during a lapse in appropriations.” Overall, therefore, only 16 percent of DoJ employees are furloughed. However, in the Civil Rights Division, 71 percent of employees are not excepted. As a result, there is a significant lapse in activity in the sections that provide essential protections for adults who may have difficulty protecting themselves from discrimination in housing, employment, and other areas. The sections of the Civil Rights Division charged with protecting civil rights include the Housing and Civil Enforcement Section, the Immigrant and Employee Rights Section, and the Federal Coordination and Compliance Section, which works to assure equity in language access.

At the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 85 percent of employees are furloughed. Activities related to receiving and investigating charges of employment discrimination are thus severely compromised. The EEOC provides information on the activities that it can and cannot carry out during the shutdown on its website.

At the Federal Trade Commission, 77 percent of employees are furloughed. The FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection investigates and brings charges against perpetrators of fraud, and raises consumer awareness about different types of scams, including Social Security scams, phishing scams, notario (immigration) fraud, and identity theft. A substantial portion of those served by the FTC’s work are adults with low levels of literacy and numeracy. The shutdown prevents the agency from fulfilling its essential consumer protection mission.

The Longer Term

Th federal government can only allocate funding appropriately for programs that support and protect America’s neediest if it has accurate information about the country’s population. With the lapse in appropriation for the Department of Commerce, the Census Bureau is operating at a deeply reduced staffing level. Whether and how the funding lapse will affect the Bureau’s preparations for the 2020 Census remains to be seen; the longer the shutdown continues, the more difficult it will be for those preparations to be carried out effectively. The possibility of incomplete or inadequate Census data is a concern for everyone, most particularly those who rely on the safety net that Census data informs.


For further reporting on the effects of the partial federal government shutdown on populations with relatively high levels of limited literacy and numeracy, please read:

Food stamps, rent aid and the safety net for America’s poorest at risk as shutdown drags on (Tracy Jan and William Wan, The Washington Post)

Shortfall may crimp ’20 Census planning (Tara Bahrampour, The Washington Post)

Shutdown leaves food, medicine and pay in doubt in Indian country (Mitch Smith and Julie Turkewitz, New York Times)

NCL Comment on Proposed Changes to Public Charge Rule

NCL Comment on Proposed Changes to Public Charge Rule

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has proposed a new rule for determining adult immigrants’ eligibility for green cards and changes in visa status. The proposed rule hinges on whether the immigrant is or may become dependent on public support:

Aliens who seek adjustment of status or a visa, or who are applicants for admission, must establish that they are not likely at any time to become a public charge, unless Congress has expressly exempted them from this ground of inadmissibility or has otherwise permitted them to seek a waiver of inadmissibility. Moreover, DHS proposes to require all aliens seeking an extension of stay or change of status to demonstrate that they have not received, are not currently receiving, nor are likely to receive, public benefits as defined in the proposed rule. (

The National Skills Coalition explains public charge succinctly:

Public charge is the standard by which individuals can be denied permanent resident (green card) status or otherwise forbidden from extending or changing their visas if they are determined to be dependent on the government for support, or likely to be dependent in the future. The public charge is a totality of circumstances test, in which federal officials weigh the positive and negative factors in an individual immigrant’s application and determine whether they are at risk of becoming a public charge. The current public charge policy has been in place for decades, and was most recently affirmed in 1999 policy guidance from the federal government.

Relatively few immigrants are currently eligible for cash assistance or related public benefits, in part due to the 1996 welfare-reform law. But the new proposal would also require federal officials to predict whether the immigrant might receive benefits in the future. Given that immigrants who are granted green cards are then eligible to apply for US citizenship, and that US citizens are eligible for a wide range of public benefits, the rule would have sweeping implications. Ultimately, the proposed changes would affect millions of legally authorized immigrants and prospective immigrants. (

The NCL opposes the proposed rule in its entirety and has submitted a comment outlining its reasoning to DHS (see below). The comment period is open through December 10. We encourage all who work with adult immigrants to review the analysis provided by the National Skills Coalition and to submit comments from their own knowledge and experience. Feel free to use the text of the NCL’s comment as needed and appropriate.


Text of the NCL comment:

Samantha Deshommes, Chief, Regulatory Coordination Division

Office of Policy and Strategy, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

Department of Homeland Security

20 Massachusetts Avenue NW

Washington, DC 20529-2140

Re: DHS Docket No. USCIS-2010-0012

Dear Ms. Deshommes

I write on behalf of the National Coalition for Literacy regarding the proposed changes to federal policy on the public charge as outlined in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking referenced above. The Coalition opposes the proposed changes because they will have an adverse effect on adult immigrants’ ability to become and remain valuable contributors to U.S. economic and societal strength.

The NCL is a coalition of leading national, regional, and local organizations dedicated to advancing adult education, family literacy, and English language acquisition in the United States. A number of our member organizations and affiliates are submitting comments related to their specific constituencies; the comments provided here address the overall potential effects of the proposed changes. Our concerns fall into three categories: potential obstacles to adult immigrants’ participation in education and training; potential challenges for adult education and workforce training providers; and potential issues for state and local adult education systems.

Potential Obstacles to Adult Immigrants’ Participation in Education and Training

  • The new rule could force immigrants who are adult learners and jobseekers to choose between their health and their education. While education and training programs themselves are not included in the list of public benefits that would count against immigrant applicants seeking green cards or changes in visa status, many participants in training programs depend on other benefits that would be counted against them—such as the Supplemental Nutrition Access Program (SNAP) or Medicaid—to be able to persist and complete their education. As a result, immigrants who are adult learners and jobseekers could be faced with the difficult decision of whether to dis-enroll from health and nutrition programs and jeopardize their ability to complete their training, or to stay enrolled in the programs and potentially jeopardize their immigration status.
  • The new rule would undermine immigrant workers’ ability to upskill for in-demand occupations. The overwhelming majority of jobs in the U.S. economy today require some postsecondary education; an analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that 84 percent of jobs today require education and skills beyond the high school level.[1] The U.S. labor market has especially strong demand for workers at the middle-skill level: jobs that require more than a high school diploma, but not a four-year degree.[2]

Immigrants represent one in six American workers,[3] and are crucial to meeting the demand for middle-skill occupations such as machine operator, welder, certified nurse aide, and computer user support specialist. Training for middle-skill occupations is often provided by community colleges, where some immigrants draw on public benefits such as SNAP to enable them to complete their studies. Counting these students’ use of public benefits as a negative factor in the public charge test will undermine their ability to upskill and prepare for the open positions that American employers need to fill.

  • The new rule would reduce enrollment, retention, and completion rates in adult education and workforce programs. Evidence from prior changes in immigration policy strongly suggests that many immigrants who are not subject to the public charge test will nevertheless withdraw from a broad array of public programs and services out of confusion, fear, or an abundance of caution. For example, following passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) in 1996, thousands of immigrant families withdrew from public benefits programs for which they were eligible.[4] The proposed new rule has been widely publicized, and human services agencies are already reporting an increase in immigrants disenrolling from public benefits programs.[5] If this regulation is enacted, it is reasonable to expect that this type of disenrollment will continue, and will include two types of needless disenrollment: 1) immigrants who are not subject to the public charge test, and 2) immigrants who disenroll even from services that are not included in the public charge determination. Such needless disenrollment would lower overall participation rates for adult education and workforce programs, as well as reducing the likelihood of success for participants who withdraw from services midway through a program.
  • The new rule would increase financial instability for immigrants who are college students and heighten their risk of dropping out. Many college students are part of larger households, either as adult children or as spouses and parents themselves. This is especially true for community college students, whose average age is 26 years old. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, one-third of community college students have family income of less than $20,000 per year.[6] Penalizing immigrant students for drawing on public benefits would have a tremendous negative impact on these financially fragile households, making it more likely that students would need to cut back on their course load or withdraw from education altogether. The long-term effect would be to reduce higher education attainment among some of the very students who most need to build a strong economic footing for themselves, their families, and their American communities.
  • The new rule could punish immigrants for attempting to improve their English skills. Research from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) shows that better basic skills and higher earnings are tightly connected in the United States – more so than in other industrialized countries.[7] This means that as immigrants improve their reading, math, and spoken English skills, they are better able to contribute economically to American society. The proposed regulation acknowledges the centrality of English language skills to economic self-sufficiency by characterizing them as a positive factor in the totality of circumstances test. However, individuals commonly improve their English skills through participation in education programs such as those offered at community colleges. Individuals who rely on Medicaid or other public benefits to enable them to succeed in their English language classes could be discouraged from continuing their education and improving their employability by fear of being found a public charge.

Potential Challenges for Adult Education and Workforce Training Providers

  • The new rule would create confusion and add expensive, time-consuming responsibilities for financial aid advisors, guidance counselors, and educators. Adult learners and workers rely on professionals to give them accurate guidance as they make important life decisions about which higher education or workforce program to enroll in, how to pay for tuition, how much debt they can safely take on, and the financial consequences of their decisions. The proposed rule would increase the preparation required for high school guidance counselors, college financial aid advisers, career navigators, and other education professionals, as they would need substantial training in order to provide accurate guidance to immigrant applicants and their families about the repercussions of accessing public benefits as they pursue their educational goals. School districts, higher education institutions, and nonprofit organizations would thus be subject to an unfunded mandate. Higher education institutions, nonprofit organizations, and state and local agencies would also face the challenge of updating enrollment forms, software programs, and other documentation that currently reassures participants that enrolling in publicly funded programs will not jeopardize their immigration status, and substituting a much more nuanced and complicated disclaimer.
  • The new rule would place workforce professionals at risk of providing advice far beyond their areas of expertise. There are more than 550 workforce boards in the United States, thousands of American Job Centers, and tens of thousands of workforce training providers. Staff at these agencies and programs are expected to be knowledgeable about workforce development, not to be immigration legal experts. The new rule would remove a clear, bright-line standard for when an immigrant may be considered a public charge, and replace it with a highly complex, multi-faceted test. This increased complexity would make it difficult for education and workforce provider staff to advise participants in a straightforward way on whether using a public benefit might jeopardize their immigration status. As a result, workforce systems could be forced to use scarce public resources to train staff on an exceptionally complicated new set of federal restrictions. In addition, confusion or excessive caution could lead individuals to be turned away from services for which they are actually eligible.

Potential Issues for State and Local Adult Education Systems

  • The new rule would undercut state and local education and workforce policy goals. State and local governments regularly advance policies to improve the education and employability of their residents. For example, more than 40 states have established goals for postsecondary credential attainment, such as having 60 percent of state residents earn a college degree or other postsecondary credential by 2025.[8] Many states will not be able to reach their goals without including their immigrant residents.[9]

To accomplish their goals, states have established programs and services to equip returning adult students to persist and succeed in their education, including through assistance in accessing key public benefits. For example, in 2018 Illinois passed Senate Bill 351, known as the College Hunger Bill, to facilitate access to SNAP benefits for certain low-income college students.[10] Research has shown that supportive services that help individuals access public benefits programs are often vital to ensuring that working adults succeed in postsecondary education.[11] However, the proposed public charge rule would penalize immigrants for using such benefits, thus creating a disincentive for them to participate in the very programs that are intended to help them succeed in their education and contribute economically. As a result, this federal regulation would undercut state and local efforts to invest in the human capital of their residents, by discouraging qualified immigrants from even applying for public benefits programs.

Our central concern is thus the negative effect that the proposed rule would likely have on immigrant participation in publicly funded adult education and workforce programs, extending far beyond the scope of the proposed rule itself. Even though the public charge proposal does not apply to some categories of immigrants (such as refugees), and even though it does not include education and workforce programs, the mere proposal of these regulatory changes has already had a notable negative effect.[12] Given the complexity of the new rule, education and workforce professionals may find it difficult to give a blanket reassurance to worried adult learners and jobseekers, and may see dips in enrollment, participation, and completion.

In light of these concerns, the NCL urges DHS to withdraw the proposed rule in its entirety, and instead to allow the principles that were affirmed in the 1999 field guidance on public charge to remain in effect. This field guidance, issued by the legacy Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), is consistent with Congressional intent and case law. It represents a clear, straightforward standard that is administratively simple and relatively non-burdensome for workforce and education service providers to communicate to their immigrant constituents, and has been in use for decades.

Thank you in advance for your thoughtful consideration of these comments and for your action in response to the concerns we raise.


Deborah Kennedy



[1] Source: The United States’ Forgotten Middle (National Skills Coalition, 2017.) Available at

[2] Ibid.

[3]Source: Frequently Requested Statistics on Immigrants and Immigration (Migration Policy Institute, February 8, 2018.)

[4] Michael Fix & Jeffery Passel, Trends in Noncitizens’ and Citizens’ Use of Public Benefits Following Welfare Reform, March 1999, (noting fear and confusion around public charge as a factor in noncitizen benefit enrollment decreases), available at Also see Leighton Ku & Alyse Freilich, Caring for Immigrants: Health Care Safety Nets in Los Angeles, New York, Miami, and Houston, Feb. 2001 (detailing several conversations with immigrants who decided that the risk of public charge was too great to receive Medicaid, even though policy had been issued that Medicaid posed no public charge risk), available at

[5] Source: ”Spooked by Trump Proposals, Immigrants Abandon Public Nutrition Services,” (New York Times, March 6, 2018.) Available at:

[6] Source: Community College FAQs (Community College Research Center, Columbia University, n.d.) Available at :

[7] Time for the US to Reskill? (OECD, 2013.)

[8] See overview of all states here: and details on 29 of the state goals here:

[9] See, for example: Middle Skill Credentials and Immigrant Workers : Texas’ Untapped Assets (National Skills Coalition, 2017.)

[10] Source : “Governor signs College Hunger Bill, assuring low-income community college students can access food security via SNAP, “ (Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, n.d.) Available at :

[11] Source: Connecting College Students to Alternative Sources of Support The Single Stop Community College Initiative and Postsecondary Outcomes (Rand Corp., 2016.) Available at:

[12] For evidence of this effect, see “A proposed federal policy won’t target immigrants for using welfare. In Texas, they might drop out anyway” (Texas Tribune, Sept 28, 2018). Available at: See also “Immigrants drop subsidized food, health programs – fearing aid will be used against them” (NBC News, Sept 8, 2018). Available at