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Testimony on Private Organizations' Role in Refugee Resettlement by Lavinia Limon
Director, Office of Refugee Resettlement
Administration for Children and Families
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Before the House Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims
August 1, 1996

Mr. Chairman, I appreciate this opportunity to appear before you on behalf of the Department of Health and Human Services to discuss the role of private organizations in refugee resettlement. As the Director of the office of Refugee Resettlement, I am responsible for administering the refugee and entrant assistance program. During the past 3 years this Administration has worked closely with States and the private sector in focusing attention on the goal of economic self-sufficiency and social adjustment as soon after a refugee's arrival in the United States as possible. I would like to share some of the positive changes we have been able to implement in order to move towards achieving this goal and discuss some of our experiences in working with private organizations.


Since 1975, over 2 million refugees have been resettled in the United States. The major goal of the refugee resettlement program is to provide assistance to these refugees so that they can achieve economic self-sufficiency and social adjustment within the shortest time possible following their arrival in the U.S. For FY 1996, approximately $417 million was available to serve refugees through five different programs: cash and medical assistance, employment services, preventive health services, the voluntary agency matching grant program, and the targeted assistance grant program.

Cash and medical assistance is available to those needy refugees who are not eligible for other cash or medical assistance programs, such as Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or Medicaid and who arrive in the U.S. with no financial resources. This refugee assistance is paid entirely from federal funds and is available only for 8 months following arrival in the U.S.

To help refugees become self-supporting as quickly as possible, we also provide employment services funding to state governments and private, non-profit agencies which are responsible for providing services, such as English language and employment training. Refugees receiving cash and medical assistance are required to be enrolled in employment services and to accept offers of employment.

In addition, in FY 1996 funds were provided to the Public Health Service to monitor overseas medical screening for U.S. bound refugees and to provide grants to state public health departments for preventive health assessment and treatment services to refugees for protection of the public health against contagious diseases.

Under the Voluntary Agency Matching Grant Program, agencies match Federal funds from private funds or in-kind goods and services. During the refugees' first four months in the U.S., several voluntary resettlement agencies take responsibility for resettling refugees and assisting them to become self-sufficient through private initiatives without recourse to public cash assistance.

The Targeted Assistance Grants program provides additional resources to communities facing extraordinary resettlement problems because of a high concentration of refugees and a high use of public assistance by the resident refugee population. Special efforts are directed to those refugees who depend upon public assistance.

Recent changes in the program

In 1995, we began sharpening our focus on newer refugee arrivals, stressing the need to provide refugee-specific, culturally and linguistically appropriate services. Final regulations were published which, for the first time, directed states to target refugee specific employment and other social adjustment services funded by our Social Services and Targeted Assistance programs, to refugees and entrants who have been in the United States for less than five years. As a result of this change in direction, major funding shifts have occurred in the program. For example, in FY 1996, 18 (counties no longer qualify for Targeted Assistance funds while 15 new counties will receive this impact aid.

The domestic program also must be able to respond quickly, visibly, and flexibly in providing refugee-specific services in response to sudden refugee needs. Our new discretionary initiatives in Preferred Communities and Unanticipated Arrivals grant programs have had an excellent start. These initiatives provide timely funding to public and private providers in order to respond to unforeseen refugee impacts. In addition, in coordination with the Department of State and the public and private sectors we have begun a review of refugee placement planning which will be the focus of all effort to improve placement decisions.

Other initiatives involving private organizations

At the State and local level, there has been a good deal of activity around creating alternative programs using the "Fish/Wilson" authority. Under this authority, we develop alternative projects which promote early employment of refugees.

It provides to States, voluntary resettlement agencies, and others the opportunity to develop innovative approaches for the provision of cash and medical assistance, employment services and case management. Some projects were established when the State government decided not to continue administering the program, such as in Kentucky, and some projects are being established as refugee-specific alternatives to categorical aid programs, such as AFDC.

In the Kentucky Fish/Wilson project, administered by Catholic Charities, a private agency is running the refugee program for the state. Six agencies in various communities throughout Kentucky are able to continue the vital work of resettlement. It usually takes less than 70 days to find employable adult refugees a job at above minimum wage. In nearly half of the cases, these jobs come with benefits including health care.

The first Fish/Wilson project awarded directly to a private-sector agency went to a U.S. Catholic Conference (USCC) affiliate in San Diego. This project serves USCC sponsored new arrivals and provides a range of in-house services aimed at increasing the rate of refugee self-sufficiency and decreasing the average length of time on cash assistance. During its first year of operation, nearly three-quarters of the refugees enrolled in the project became self-sufficient before the end of the 12 months.

I hope I have presented to this committee a concise overview of some of the changes we have made in the refugee program in conjunction with our State and private sector partners, along with the highlights of our efforts in working with voluntary agencies. The opportunity to have this discussion today can serve as an important first step in the reauthorization process next year. Along with these changes, we must also keep in mind the potential impact on refugees of major legislative changes currently under consideration by this congress, as well as the impact of the numerous welfare reform waivers approved by this Administration.

As we begin the reauthorization process for FY 1998, one other point is critical to keep in mind. Any new legislation must be flexible and responsive to refugee admissions decisions and provide integrated, culturally and linguistically appropriate services so refugees can become economically self-sufficient as soon after arrival as possible.

I would be pleased to answer any questions.

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