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Op-ed: The Solution is to Find Funding for Both Needs

Author: Eva Hassett – International Institute of Buffalo

The International Institute of Buffalo and all refugee service providers are watching with great concern the debate about unaccompanied children (UAC) crossing the Mexico border to the US.

Not only is this a huge humanitarian issue, but sadly it also is causing a threat to programs that serve the 70,000 refugees being resettled in the US, and the almost 2000 coming each year to Buffalo, now and going forward.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement (“ORR”, housed in HHS), responsible for the care of UACs, also funds longstanding programs like Match Grant, Targeted Assistance Grant and the Refugee Social Service Program, all of which help refugees find employment. ORR likewise funds competitive grants that – in Buffalo – help refugees start childcare businesses, develop their own community organizations, match their savings to buy homes and go to college, provide support to the Buffalo schools to support refugee children, and more.

These longstanding refugee programs have demonstrated excellent outcomes. II Buffalo’s Match Grant employment stats for 2013 show 83.1% of clients placed in jobs still working at 180 days, compared to a national rate of 69%.

Buffalo’s future is closely tied to the refugee population’s success in many ways. Refugees are the main exception to Buffalo’s lack of in-migration; finding ways to increase their economic integration is critical to Buffalo’s overall economic strategy.

Post-industrial, shrinking cities all over the US – Detroit, Pittsburgh, Toledo, Cleveland, St. Louis, and others – are all developing revitalization strategies based on immigrants and refugees. There are even indirect reasons refugees help Buffalo: young people want to live in cities that are culturally diverse. Buffalo needs to be a city that attracts talent including young people.

The connection between the two programs is this: increases in the numbers of UAC children crossing are leading to unprecedented expense increases for ORR taking care of them; ORR is now saying that they will run out of money in August without an increased appropriation from Congress. If they run out, they will most likely divert funding from refugee programs to support the children.

We understand the need to care for the children. But there must be help for refugees brought to the US by the federal government too. We have to be able to do both.

Program cuts will have negative consequences for agencies like the International Institute, but more importantly they will pull support for employment and integration from the refugee populations the federal government brings to cities like Buffalo. We see the refugee population as critical not only to the future of Buffalo and other cities, but as providing a great example of how immigrants have positive economic impact.

The solution is to find funding for both needs. President Obama proposed an increase in ORR funding to Congress in a supplemental appropriation bill two weeks ago. The Senate and House are discussing smaller supplements (the house far smaller). Without additional funds for ORR this summer, refugee funding will more than likely be pulled.

Pitting support for children escaping persecution against adults (and children) escaping persecution makes no sense. As the federal government works to develop a stable plan to respond to the youth, funding for programs serving refugees needs to be preserved.

We are hoping that anyone who feels compelled will contact his or her member in Congress to ask that funding be provided to ORR to avoid cuts to the refugee programs.

Thank you for your consideration, with your help we hope there can be a positive resolution.

 

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