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Testimony on President's Recommendations for FY 1998 Refugee Admissions by Lavinia Limon
Director, Office of Refugee Resettlement
Administration for Children and Families
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Immigration
July 31, 1997

Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the opportunity to submit this testimony on behalf of the President's recommendations for fiscal year 1998 refugee admissions. As the Director of the office of Refugee Resettlement, in the Administration for Children and Families, I am responsible for administering the refugee and entrant assistance program.

The President's budget request of $395,732,000 (including $3.4 million carryover for FY 196) for the refugee and entrant ,assistance program in FY 1998 is based on an expected 90,000 refugee and entrant arrivals. With this budget request, we would be able to maintain current services in the program.


Since 1975, over 2 million refugees have been resettled in the United States. The major goal of the refugee and entrant assistance program is to help refugees achieve economic self- sufficiency and social adjustment within the shortest time possible following their arrival in the U.S. For FY 1997, approximately $426.6 million was available through six different programs: cash and medical assistance, so-called "alternative programs" under the Wilson/Fish authority, social services, preventive health services, the voluntary agency matching grant program, and the targeted assistance grant program.

Cash and medical assistance (RCA/RMA) are available to needy refugees who are not eligible for other cash or medical assistance programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or Medicaid, and who arrive in the U.S. with few or no financial resources. This refugee assistance is State-administered and is paid entirely from federal funds. It is available to refugees only for a limited number of months following arrival in the U.S.; currently RCA/RMA are available for a refugee's first 8 months in the U.S.

We also reimburse States for the costs incurred on behalf of refugee children in the U.S. who are identified in countries of first asylum as unaccompanied minors. Depending on their individual needs, refugee children are placed in foster care, group care, independent living, or residential treatment.

At the State and local level, there continues to be 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. States, voluntary resettlement agencies and others have the' opportunity to develop innovative approaches for the provision of cash and medical assistance, social services and case management. Some projects were established when the State government decided not to continue administering the program, such as in Kentucky and Nevada, and some projects, such as the one in Massachusetts, are, being established as refugee-specific alternatives to categorical aid programs.

To help refugees become self-supporting as quickly as possible, we also provide funding to State governments and private, non-profit agencies to provide 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.

For FY 1997, ORR provided 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. About one-quarter of all newly arriving refugees are enrolled in this program. 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 assistance.

The Targeted Assistance Grants program targets 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.

As a result of increased funding available for the Targeted Assistance program, eight additional counties have been added to the formula program. These new counties reflect changes occurring in the program as different communities offer greater opportunities for resettlement. The new counties range from Ingham County, Michigan to Maricopa, Arizona.

Recent changes in the program

In 1997, we continued to focus on newer refugee arrivals, stressing the need to provide refugee-specific, culturally and linguistically appropriate services. Final regulations published in FY 1995 for the first time directed States to target refugee specific employment and social adjustment services to refugees and entrants who have been in the United States for less than five-years.

As I have indicated previously to the Committee, we believe that the domestic refugee resettlement program must be able to respond quickly, visibly, and flexibly in providing refugee- specific services in response to refugee crises. A recent example was Operation Pacific Haven where ORR assisted in the resettlement of over 6,500 asylees from Northern Iraq.

One new ORR discretionary initiative called, "Unanticipated Arrivals" has had an excellent beginning. This initiative provides timely funding to public and private providers in order to respond to unforeseen refugee arrivals. For example, ORR provided funds to North Carolina for services to Montagnard refugees who arrived on short notice.

Similarly, the Preferred Communities discretionary program initiative encourages resettlement where refugees have the best opportunity for early self-sufficiency. For example, ORR funded affiliates of the Immigration and Refugee Services of America in Twin Falls, ID; Bowling Green, KY; Erie, PA; Burlington, VT; and Houston, TX, to increase placements in these communities where refugees have had histories of lower welfare utilization and higher self-sufficiency outcomes.

In addition, we have begun a partnership with the Department of State and the public and private sectors on refugee placement planning which will increase collaboration among the refugee resettlement organizations at all levels to improve opportunities for refugees, social adjustment and self-sufficiency. Last fall, we established the Refugee Placement Academy made up of participants from all sectors in the refugee program. Its mission is to develop recommendations for improving communication, coordination, and collaboration in refugee resettlement placement planning. We expect the Academy's report to be published before the end of this fiscal year.


I hope I have presented to this committee a concise overview of the domestic refugee program. We will continue to work closely with Congress, the States and voluntary agencies to identify creative and effective ways to help refugees achieve economic self-sufficiency and social adjustment as quickly as possible.

We believe the Administration's proposed 3-year reauthorization package provides the framework for accomplishing this goal. We look forward to working with the Committee to reauthorize the refugee and entrant program this year.

I would be pleased to answer any questions.

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