U.S. Refugee Assistance Faces Huge Funding Shortfall

Proposed drastic cuts to refugee assistance funding, if approved by Congress, will imperil support for tens of thousands refugees due to be resettled in the United States during the coming fiscal year. That’s very bad news for people escaping persecution and war in countries such as Afghanistan, Burma, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea and Iraq.

Refugee resettlement organizations are understandably alarmed. According to most recent online action appeal by the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants:

The Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services (LHHS) introduced a bill that will provide $658 million for ORR, $112 million less than the current fiscal year and $147 million less than the funding requested in the President’s budget. Cuts to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which has been historically underfunded, will have a devastating effect on refugees, Afghan and Iraqi Special Immigrant Visa recipients, victims of torture and trafficking, unaccompanied immigrant children and other vulnerable populations, as well as communities across the country that welcome these populations.

Last year, the U.S. resettled more than 56,000 refugees from twenty different countries through the United States Refugee Resettlement Program. The actual work of assisting these newcomers is carried out by nine organizations contracted by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Resettlement field offices, largely located in America’s poorest cities, have endured years of crisis-level funding shortfalls and staffing shortages, with no relief in sight. These deficiencies mean that, as is, many refugees receive only the bare minimum of support following their arrival in the United States, leaving unmet pressing needs like mental health care and extended case management for refugees with disabilities.

And local non-profits simply aren’t able to fill all of the gaps, especially now, with many small organizations struggling to survive on dwindling donations and facing stiff competition for scarce foundation dollars. If the proposed 2013 cuts go through, refugees will face an even rougher start to life in America than they do now.