Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

Archive for January, 2010

Increase in R&P public funding – an analysis

Posted by Christopher Coen on January 31, 2010

Friends of Refugees has had some concerns about the recently announced increase in refugee program funding (see our recent post on this announcement). We wanted to know who made this recommendation and what criteria was used. We understand that President Obama ordered a comprehensive review of the refugee resettlement program by the National Security Council (NSC), but who is on the NSC’s Interagency Task Force and who is the Task Force consulting with? (It has been reported in several newspapers that the Task Force will be releasing it’s recommendations in February.)

According to an NSC official recently contacted by Friends of Refugees, the Interagency Task Force assigned to conduct the Administration’s review of the refugee program is composed of the NSC, the U.S. Department of State (DOS), the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The official stated that in addition to the Task Force members, stakeholders from State governments, voluntary agencies, and think-tanks have also been consulted and will continue to be consulted over the course of the review process. The official also stated, somewhat strangely, that the NSC does not, “have any info on the timeline”, regarding when the NSC will release the final recommendations.

We then asked a State Department official how the PRM is funding the increase in the Reception and Placement (R&P) per capita grant. According to the official the President’s budget request for Migration and Refugee Assistance for refugee admissions was $305 million. Congress then voted to appropriate even more funding to the PRM then the President had requested, and the PRM was able to allocate a total of $324 million for refugee admissions.

In a follow-up email to the State Department official we asked why the increase in funding was done in advance of any recommendations from the NSC. We asked, “Isn’t the point of the NSC formulating recommendations to determine such things as whether or not R&P public funding should be increased, to what level, and what rules should be applied to how resettlement agencies may use those funds?” The official responded briefly that the PRM was, “aware of the urgency of the refugees need…[and that the increase] was done with NSC concurrence.”

In addition, we asked how the PRM decided on the $1800 figure. We pointed out that the increase identically matches the $1800 per capita recommendation made in the refugee resettlement group LIRS’ cost-analysis report ‘The Real Cost of Welcome’, which was also trumpeted by the Refugee Council USA. “Did the PRM simply agree with LIRS’ and RCUSA’s figures, or did it arrive at the $1800 separately?”, we asked. “Did the PRM agree with the $1800 figure by analyzing the LIRS cost-analysis [report] to determine if the numbers made sense, or did they use some other analysis?” “Did they do any other analysis to arrive at the $1800 figure?” The State Department official responded simply that, “The $1800 amount was determined based on the funding that was available, and the LIRS analysis.”

In our group’s opinion this presents a problem if the LIRS cost-analysis report is not accurate, which we believe it is not. The report claimed that LIRS-affiliated resettlement agencies’ private contributions were paying for 61% of the cost of resettling refugees in the first 30-90 days. Yet, neither LIRS nor some of their affiliates whose costs LIRS analyzed have budgets which are more than 8% privately funded. How then were resettlement agencies supposedly able to pay for 61% of refugee resettlement costs? According to the LIRS analysis churches and other local groups and people were supplying about half of the resettlement agencies’ 61% share of costs. The churches and community groups’ contribution is listed as volunteer time and in-kind donations. So the the church groups and other local groups contribute 30%, with the State Department and other federal contributions paying 39%, and the resettlement agencies only contributing a supposed 31%, if we are to believe their figures.

Yet, where are the resettlement agencies accounting for their supposed 31% contribution? Certainly the small part of their budgets that apparently comes from private sources could not account for 31% of refugee resettlement costs up to the refugees’ first 30-90 days, could it? If so, then the figures reported in the LIRS cost-analysis report may not be accurate. Isn‘t this important to know if the PRM is depending so highly on the LIRS report? (By the way none of these figures take into account the much larger government contributions from the ORR and other government agencies which provide for refugees’ needs up to the end of their eighth month in the US. The LIRS cost-analysis and the recent State Department doubling of refugee funds only covers the R&P part of refugee resettlement – the first 30-90 days.)

Considering all of this information, why hasn’t the NSC and the State Department’s PRM consulted with independent groups and stakeholders who have been critical of how the resettlement agencies have used the public contribution – people who have no vested interests in the funding increase? So far almost all of the agencies and groups that have been consulted have enormous vested interests in advocating for an increase in government funding. Why would they not advocate for increased funding?

Even the few think-tank people who have been consulted have been highly swayed by the resettlement agencies, no doubt. Witness Eric Schwartz Assistant Secretary of the PRM, a former think-tank member and NSC official, who recently visited several refugee resettlement agencies and became convinced problems could be solved by adding more public money. Mr. Schwartz must have no comprehension of the critical need to be weary of the opinions of people with vested interests. If this official and former think-tank member also consulted fellow government agencies in the refugee program, agencies that also have deep vested interests, then we would have to ask, what government agency wouldn’t want more money?

If the NSC wants to have balanced information by which to make recommendations to the President and to the State Department, shouldn’t people and groups who are knowledgeable about the refugee program and have no vested interests in the money – and therefore no conflict-of-interests – give input about the current needs and problems of the program? For example, our group Friends of Refugees was never consulted. We have a wealth of information about how refugee resettlement  and government oversight agencies have performed over the past ten years. Although our group supports and advocates for refugee resettlement in the U.S., we have also been critical of the performance of those agencies. We believe that the data and recommendations we have are critical for determining what has gone wrong with the program. We receive no government funding nor have we requested any. None of us are former refugee resettlement agency employees with an ax to grind. Our only interest in the program is in helping refugees and also making sure that tax-payer money is spent wisely and accountably, i.e. we have no conflicts-of-interests as almost all of the people and groups do who are recommending increased public funding as the main, maybe only, way of solving problems in the refugee program.

Throwing more public money at the program, and without first consulting independent players, may well make the problems worse. Certainly, the increase in funding to the resettlement agencies should not have been done until those agencies could assure the government that they would use the funding accountably, and that the public will be given a mechanism by which to determine if the increase in public funding is being used responsibly. Finally, the huge increase in funding may well just make the refugee resettlement agencies less inclined to raise private contributions. If so, this increase in public funding may actually hurt refugees and damage public perception of the program.

Posted in Congress, Dept of Homeland Security, funding, government, HHS, LIRS, NSC (National Security Council), ORR, PRM, R&P, State Department, Volags (voluntary agencies) | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments »

U.S. State Department announces doubling of funding for refugee resettlement agencies

Posted by Christopher Coen on January 26, 2010

The Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration, Eric Schwartz, has written a letter to announce a doubling of the State Department’s contribution of funding for the Refugee Resettlement Program (first 30-90 days only).

See letter below.

Our group was never asked to put in any input into this increased funding decision. We have contacted other community groups who have been critical of of the government oversight agencies, particularly the State Department and the refugee resettlement agencies, and none of them were invited to be part of the process either. Were only those refugee advocates with vested interests, who were to be the recipients of the increased funding, included in the process?

Which Congressional staff members were consulted? What promises have the State Department and resettlement agencies made to Congress for improving the program in exchange for this substantial increase in funding?

 United States Department of State

Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration

Washington, D.C.  20520

January 25, 2010

 Doing Right by Newly Arriving Refugees

Dear Colleagues:

Right now, it is difficult for humanitarians to focus on much more than the devastation in Haiti, and our Bureau is working closely with USAID and others on the effort to provide life-sustaining assistance to the affected population.  At the same time, a broad array of humanitarian programs supported by the U.S. Government continue to provide critical aid to populations around the world, and I wanted to take a moment to offer important news about one such effort:  the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.

When I took the job as Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration in July, it was with a keen awareness of Secretary Clinton’s commitment to elevate U.S. efforts to address refugee issues, and my own responsibilities as the new steward of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP).  Every year, the United States provides resettlement opportunities to thousands of the world’s most vulnerable refugees, in a program endorsed by the President (and every President since 1980) through an annual determination.  This program, which resettled nearly 75,000 refugees in the United States in 2009, reflects our own tradition as a nation of immigrants and refugees.  It is an important, enduring and ongoing expression of our commitment to international humanitarian principles. The program also imposes upon us a solemn responsibility to address effectively the basic needs of refugees during their first days in our country.  And while we cannot guarantee their success, we must provide sufficient support to ensure refugees are able to get on their feet during their first weeks and months here – and move quickly toward becoming independent, productive members of their new communities.

A Sudanese refugee family arrives at the airport. UNHCR Photo

Early in my tenure, I visited Chicago, Fort Wayne, IN and Minneapolis/St. Paul, to learn more about our efforts to meet the needs of newly arriving refugees – Bhutanese, Burmese, Burundians, Hmong, Iraqis and so many others.  What I saw was both heartening and dismaying.  It was so gratifying to witness the deep and abiding commitment to refugees among overworked and underpaid agency personnel in the field, the determination of new arrivals, and the welcoming spirit of local school, healthcare and government officials.  On the other hand, it was very sad to meet with refugees who had severe problems that go well beyond the challenges that any new refugee might expect to confront.  I heard from refugees threatened with eviction after only months in the United States.  I learned that refugees often had to choose between buying food or diapers for their children.  And I spoke with agency field staff overburdened by the number of refugee families they serve and the complexity of the resettlement service needs of recent arrivals.The Reception and Placement Program administered by the Department of State includes a one-time per capita grant for the initial weeks after arrival, but the grant has declined in real terms by more than 50% since its inception some decades ago.  This is a primary reason for the problems that I witnessed which have been documented and publicized in a variety of assessments over the past year or so.  In short, the combined level of public and charitable resources available to the program is simply insufficient to do a quality job of initial resettlement.   And in my own review of this issue, I heard repeatedly from all stakeholders — agencies, congressional staff, and PRM Admissions office officials — that our level of this short term support must increase substantially.

In light of our critical obligations on these issues, PRM will increase the Reception and Placement per capita grant from $900 to $1,800, which will be effective as of January 1, 2010.  This is intended to address challenges refugees face in their first 30-90 days in the United States.  It will directly benefit refugees and the network of local non-profit affiliates that serve them.  This would not have been possible without the generous support of Congress, which has been steadfast in its endorsement of the USRAP, as well as support from the National Security Council and others in the Administration.

                Refugee children in their new school in Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Photo courtesy of UNHCR

The bulk of the increase, at least $1,100, will be designated for direct support of refugees – so that in the first weeks after their arrival, they have a roof over their heads, a clean bed in which to sleep and basic assistance.  Affiliates providing aid to refugees will have some flexibility in how those funds are allocated, and will also be able to use up to $700 per capita to meet costs related to management of this program.  This $700 figure — about a 50% increase over the current management ceiling — should address the need to lower client-to-staff ratios, support positions to coordinate volunteers or develop private resources for Reception and Placement, or otherwise improve the quality of Reception and Placement services received by refugees.

While a critical component of overall program improvements, this funding increase is only part of the answer.  As many of you know, the White House is leading a comprehensive review of the refugee resettlement program, and PRM will remain deeply engaged in this effort.

Many thanks, and kind regards,

Eric Schwartz

Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration

To learn more about PRM’s programs and activities, please visit our website at http://www.state.gov/g/prm/index.htm

A Sudanese refugee family arrives at the airport. UNHCR Photo 

Photo courtesy of UNHCR

Posted in funding, State Department | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

Jewish Vocational Services, Kansas City

Posted by Melissa Sogard on January 25, 2010

We’ve been reading articles and posts around the internet regarding problems at this refugee resettlement agency – JVS (Jewish Vocational Services). There are two recent artcles in the Pitch, here and here. (Christopher wrote a comment for the first Jan. 7th article regarding how the U.S. Department of State conducts investigations of refugee resettlement agencies – see Comment #8; also see Comment #1).

There articles tell the story of what our group has seen at refugee resettlement agencies in other parts of the U.S.; refugees being placed in apartments that do not meet the requirements of the State Department’s guidelines, refugees not been given rides to crucial doctor appointments, refugees who have no idea who to call when their refugee resettlement agency is not there to assist them.

JVS is an affiliate of the USCRI (U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants). The USCRI’s affiliates have been in dozens of newspaper articles during the past several years that have documented neglect of refugees.

I guess my question is why hasn’t JVS responded to the reports of neglect? The silence almost reads as a confirmation of the reporter’s information and the stories told by JVS’ refugee clients. Does it really all come down to funding issues? If the private contributions added to the public money contributions were too little, why were the refugees accepted by JVS for resettlement? Did a grant or two fall through? How is the public to understand what has happened with so few details provided by JVS?

Posted in Burundian, housing, housing, substandard, insufficient assistance with daily tasks, Jewish, Jewish Vocational Services, Kansas City, State Department, USCRI | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Friends of Refugees

Posted by Christopher Coen on January 25, 2010

Hello, this is the Friends of Refugees (FORefugees) blog. We started our group in 2002 to monitor the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program. We assist individual refugees in the Upper Midwest while monitoring and investigating the refugee program across the nation. Our goal is to assist refugees and the American public by helping to ensure that the refugee resettlement program is run in a manner that is accountable
to all of them. Currently we have a system that is run secretively,
wherein the government oversight agencies and the private refugee resettlement agencies have a cozy relationship, thus preventing real oversight. We believe that this public program needs some sunlight, to ensure accountability and prevent abuses.

Our group supports the refugee resettlement program, believing it is a crucial leg of the efforts to help the most vulnerable refugees and refugee families around the world; those who are capable of becoming self-sufficient in the US.

Melissa Sogard and I, and others, will be updating this blog several times a week. We currently have investigations underway around the country as well as general information about refugee resettlement agencies that have not been providing their refugee clients with basic services, nor responding responsibly to community members‘ concerns.

We will also be posting U.S. government agency documents related to the refugee resettlement program, including U.S. State Department inspection reports of the refugee resettlement agencies — acquired through various FOIA’s.

Thanks for visiting us!

~Christopher Coen

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

 
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