U.S. refugee resettlement offices may have to downsize because of President Donald Trump’s executive order restricting the number of persecuted people welcomed to the United States and will likely have to carry out major fundraising campaigns to stay afloat.
What they fear the most is that it will hurt refugees who are already here and who rely on resettlement offices to help them adjust to life in a new country.
“We definitely need the community’s support to move forward over the next 120 days,” said Megan Johnson, director of the Church World Service office in Jersey City.
Trump’s order, signed one week ago, halts refugee resettlement entirely for 120 days and blocks Syrian refugees indefinitely. It also cuts refugee admissions for the 2017 fiscal year from the 110,000 proposed by President Barack Obama to 50,000. Lower refugee numbers means less funding for resettlement organizations (particularly those that primarily serve Syrian refugees), which now may have to fire staff or potentially close their doors.
Implicit in any halt of the refugee program is also a pause in federal funding for refugee resettlement organizations. The break in funding will begin March 31, according to Mark Hetfield, CEO of HIAS, one of the nine domestic resettlement organizations.
The amount of funding the government doles out is contingent on the number of refugees each organization resettles, Jane Graupman, executive director of the International Institute of Minnesota, told The Huffington Post. IIMN is a local affiliate of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, another of the domestic resettlement agencies.
Once the State Department has approved refugee cases, it delegates them to one of those agencies. They meet on a weekly basis to divvy up newcomers and figure out which group will assist them in resettlement and which city each person or family will be resettled in.
“We haven’t been given any clear instructions but we do know that it means a quarter-of-a-million-dollar loss for our organization,” Graupman said of the executive order.
These are nonprofit entities, meaning all federal funding goes purely toward implementing the work they do and paying the salaries of staff.
For the next four months, “there will be no arrivals, so what are we supposed to do with our staff?” she asked. “These are very experienced people, we haven’t heard if they’re going to give us some administrative funding [to keep them around].”
The U.S. government did continue offering administrative funding even during the two-month hiatus of the refugee program after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, she said, so there is precedent for that.
But for the longer term, it appears offices will receive less funding regardless, she said, since Trump slashed the refugee quota for the 2017 fiscal year by more than half to 50,000. The quota hasn’t been that low in a decade.
“It’s a big departure from the norm of the last decade and that means fewer refugees across the whole country,” she said. “We will be receiving less funding and we will need less staff.”
The Church World Service office in Jersey City will focus on fundraising to keep its existing staff on board and continue providing for refugees, Johnson said.
Even though all of the office’s arrivals were canceled once the order was signed, there are still plenty of families already here in need of continuous support. Refugees keep getting assistance from resettlement offices for at least the first three months they’re in the U.S.
Resettlement offices find housing for refugees, help them enroll their children in school and assist them in finding work. They also teach them the basics of life in the U.S. ― things Americans may take for granted like how to use public transportation, write a check or shop for groceries. Many offices also help with English courses, employment readiness and financial literacy.
“We need to stay available for refugees who are already here,” she said.
None of the refugees already here will go without aid entirely because resettlement organizations are committed to fulfilling their obligation to provide the assistance, said Carleen Miller, senior director for operations at CWS’s national office. Even if an office shuts down, another one would have to step up to handle its cases. But, she said, there is a risk that when offices downsize, caseworkers will be stretched thin.
“We’re already at a national level and a local level raising private funds because the federal dollars don’t cover all of the services needed for newly arriving refugees,” Miller said. “So local offices will be working even harder to try to get private funds in, but it can’t possibly cover the gap in federal funds.”
Resettlement workers said they hope opposition to the ban will lead to more people supporting refugee resettlement directly, whether by volunteering or donating money or goods.
“The only silver lining is that there’s just been an amazing outpouring of support,” Hetfield said. “We’ve literally acquired thousands of new donors since the order was issued and so many people want to volunteer that we can’t even accommodate the requests.”
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