Agencies Face New Funding Challenges

December 1, 2004       Tom Pope      

When refugee agencies help the newcomers, the U.S. Department of State funds an initial amount. Yet that income is, “very little,” according to Loc Nguyen, the director of the Immigration & Refugee Department for the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

“Housing usually takes up all the money for a family of four to five,” he said. “They need a two to three bedroom with a deposit and security.”

Funding by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which comes from the Department of State, is enough for just the first 30 days. The agency then needs to find a matching grant program. Meanwhile, the refugee might not find immediate employment and they could end up with public assistance.

Funding from the Department of State is based, in part, on a per head basis for the arrival. Part goes directly to the refugee and part to the agency at the local level. The funding is aimed at core services for the first 90 days.

Agencies are judged on effectiveness by how close they manage refugees to reaching self sufficiency by the 90th day. Future funding problems for the agency can occur if the agency fails to attain an outcome of present refugees.

“We rely on local support when there is a decline in the number of those who become self-sufficient,” said Tom Kosel, program director for Refugee Resettlement Services for the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. St. Paul receives funding for the per capita of 2,300, almost 2,000 more than what Kosel expected at the beginning of the year.

“The challenge is beyond the 90 days,” he said, “especially if the case has physical health problems or a trauma.”

In the south, the Unaccompanied Refugee Minors program from the Catholic Charities in Jackson, Miss., serves by having foster homes and group homes. This foster program is funded through the state through the Office of Refugee Settlement, which is part of the Health and Human Services (HHS).

“One big problem is the fall off of the amount of incoming refugees for two years,” said Debra West, program director for Catholic Charities. After September 11th, incoming figures dropped from a high of 70,000 annually to less than 30,000. In addition, a moratorium for a few months saw no refugees settled.

“State funding comes from a look at three-year clusters so that if few arrivals come, the state funding system is not prepared when they go back up,” she said.

Such difficulties create obstacles when an agency sets up services. West maintains a one-on-one tutorial for English as a second language is an example of a necessity. The primary difficulty is the program is unpredictable, according to St. Paul’s Kosel. “We don’t know from year-to-year who will come in,” he said. “We have to become familiar with new cultures that we have not dealt with before and that means we have to find staffing.”

Kosel hopes for more steady numbers instead of peaks and valleys. “The quality is in jeopardy,” he said. “If we have large numbers, then the staff can’t complete serving 10 people at a time if they are faced with 20.”