Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

Posts Tagged ‘food stamps’

Refugees in San Diego denied refugee cash assistance

Posted by Christopher Coen on April 20, 2011

San Diego county welfare workers have been improperly denying Refugee Cash Assistance (RCA) to qualifying refugees since late 2009, according to an article in Voice of San Diego. The county welfare office claims that the California state government did not tell them until last month that these refugees are eligible for RCA (instead of regular welfare via the state’s CalWORKs program).

It was in late 2009 that the county should have begun dispensing RCA itself. Before that, the four local refugee resettlement federal contractors had distributed the funds to refugees, yet according to the article in late 2009 the federal government (ORR?) decided that San Diego county welfare workers should instead, distribute it — the way its done in every other California county.

County social workers have instead inexplicably been signing refugees up for CalWORKs — federal welfare that the US Dept. of HHS channels to the state of California — even though these particular refugees were not eligible for it (due to the State’s Department’s initial resettlement grant — which was doubled in 2010. Thus, having an income during their first month too high to qualify for CalWORKs). At the beginning of this month, however, the San Diego county welfare office stopped doing this, but did not refer the refugees to RCA instead, because it has taken 30 days to train county workers to carry out the change.

…the county has been routinely denying refugee applications for welfare and not enrolling those families in the alternative program, called Refugee Cash Assistance, which provides the same cash payments as CalWORKs but is funded from a special pot of state money for refugees. Since the start of this year, resettlement workers say, the mistake has affected dozens of refugee families’ applications, leaving some of the county’s poorest and most vulnerable without the cash aid they’re entitled
to receive…

…County officials acknowledge the mistake and say they’re working to fix it. But they don’t yet know how many refugees were improperly denied…

…The larger federal resettlement grant might not have been a problem…somewhere else. In California counties other than San Diego, welfare workers are trained to automatically refer refugees to the alternative cash aid program if their initial
resettlement grant makes them ineligible for welfare…

But until recently, that wasn’t an issue in San Diego County, which has handled refugee assistance differently because its refugee community is so large. San Diego has four federally contracted resettlement
agencies that help newly arrived refugees adjust during their first months in the United States. Until late 2009, those agencies, not the county, were in charge of administering cash assistance to new refugee families for their first eight months.

The federal government funneled assistance money directly to the resettlement agencies with the hope that the agencies would be better equipped than the county to help refugees, who often have no English skills or experience navigating red tape.

But in late 2009, that money mostly stopped flowing to the local agencies. The federal government wanted refugee families to apply for welfare directly to San Diego County, just like in every other California county.

It’s still unclear why, but for most of 2010, the county approved refugee welfare applications, even for families with the larger resettlement payments that should have made them ineligible. Then this year, workers started counting the resettlement payment as income and just started denying applications…

Kim Forrester, assistant deputy director of the county’s Health and Human Services Agency, which administers the CalWORKs and food stamps program, said it wasn’t until last month that state officials told the county it should be enrolling families ineligible for CalWORKs in the special program for refugees.

“We’re going to have it fully implemented within 30 days,” Forrester said. She said her department would identify any families that were inappropriately denied and issue their payments retroactively.

It’s also not clear why it took the county a year to realize it should have been enrolling them in the alternative refugee program. But when the denials finally started early this year, resettlement agencies didn’t know what to do…

…Until the county fixes the problem and trains workers to enroll refugees in Refugee Cash Assistance, more families could be denied… Read more here

The article illistrates the issue via an Alliance for African Assistance Iraqi refugee woman client and her two children, whom the Alliance simply handed over the grant money to ($1100 x three people = $3300). The family bought beds, a new extra income their first month if the Alliance had done its job and bought these items for the family instead?

By the way, it was in early 2010 that we received word from SIV immigrants in Sacramento that they could not get the eight months of federal medical coverage that they qualified for. It that case, Thuan
, the California state refugee coordinator, also claimed that it was a training issue at the local welfare office. An Iraqi SIV sat without coverage for months, and endured extremely painful passage of kidney stones.

**UPDATE** April 25, 2011

Posted in Alliance for African Assistance (San Diego), California, Catholic Charities of San Diego, health, HHS, Iraqi, IRC, Jewish Family Service of San Diego, language, ORR, RCA (Refugee Cash Assistance), RMA (Refugee Medical Assistance), San Diego, SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) immigrants, State Department | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Refugee Clients of Catholic Charities, Archdiocese of San Antonio, Inc. in Desperation

Posted by Christopher Coen on March 30, 2010

Refugee clients of Catholic Charities, Archdiocese of San Antonio, Inc. who arrived a year ago are living in desperate circumstances, and a local aid leader is asking that they be cared for first before Catholic Charities brings in any more refugees (here).

Something wasn’t right with 5-year-old Taw Meh.

She threw up every morning, just before breakfast at the Head Start program she attended. It had become so frequent that her counselor, Abdul, a former interpreter for U.S. military forces in Iraq, would cover her with plastic to protect her clothes.

When he told his Family Services Association co-worker, Pam Espurvoa, about the child, she suspected her diet. She suggested they visit the Northwest Side apartment Taw Meh shared with her father, Baw Reh, 49, mother, Htwa Meh, 39, and two sisters, Pleh Meh, 15 and Mo Meh, 3.

When Espurvoa and Abdul arrived at Taw Meh’s apartment at the Auburn Creek complex off Wurzbach Road, the only food they found was rotting vegetables in the refrigerator. A chill hung through the apartment. Several wires dangled from a furnace blower that didn’t work. …parents about apartment maintenance and application deadlines. Many refugees are illiterate in their language, Espurvoa said, and the letters for phone appointments for Medicaid and food stamps are in English. They, like other refugees, do not have a phone.Meh’sreturned to the apartment in early March, with her supervisor, Susan Miller, to teach Taw EspurvoaFour beds for five people filled one of the two bedrooms. A father and his daughter lived in the other bedroom. Roaches scurried up the walls as Andrade showed the family how to use a space heater.

Why are other agencies in San Antonio having to come to the rescue of these refugees a year after their arrival? The State Department contracted with Catholic Charities to teach these refugees about apartment maintenance and application deadlines (e.g. for food stamps) during their first 30-90 days in the US.

Local aid agencies are advising that new refugees not be resettled to San Antonio until refugees already here are properly taken care of. Why didn’t Catholic Charities and the state refugee coordinator, Caitriona Lyons, think of that themselves?

Some aid workers said the best move would be to take care of those already here before bringing in more refugees.

Jann Fractor from Refugee Forum SA, a local network of organizations, churches and volunteers that helps refugees with transition needs, said several refugee families — without jobs and beyond services — faced eviction in the Wurzbach area in December, but humanitarian agencies came together to pay their rent.

Fractor, one of the forum founders, said several refugee families recently faced expulsion from their apartments, but groups scrambled to help them.

“People chipped in, but here we go again,” Fractor said.

“We can’t bring people here and have them homeless, that’s not the idea. The realistic view is not there because they’re expecting people who haven’t been educated in their own language to attain enough English in six months to get a job,” Factor said.

Notice that not only did the refugee resettlement agency apparently not continue to look out for these refugees, they also don’t seem to have at least referred the refugees to anyone who could help them fill out forms in English and turn them in on time. The refugees also don’t seem to have learned how to request help for apartment maintenance issues. Also, did Catholic Charities originally place the refugees in those roach-infested apartments at the Auburn Creek complex off Wurzbach Road? That’s against State Department contract rules, albeit rules that are not enforced.

Why do members of the community and local aid leaders have to come forward to the media and point out that refugees are not receiving the help they need from Catholic Charities rather than the state refugee coordinator dealing with these issues before they become a crisis?

We had to point the Texas state coordinator Caitriona Lyons to refugees being neglected in Houston, and she was fairly unresponsive (here, here and here). She refused to contact the refugees in question, and would not answer basic questions about what she was doing to investigate the situation. This, at a time when President Obama is calling for a new focus on open and accessible government. Are refugee program government oversight agencies determined to cover up their own failings with a culture of secrecy and unresponsiveness to the public?

I think what we need even more than additional funding for this program is some new, real accountability. Certainly government checks sent directly to the refugees is the only sensible way to help these refugees. It’s clear that many refugee resettlement agencies cannot be counted on to deliver direct services to the refugees.

**UPDATE** November 22, 2010

**UPDATE** December 8, 2010

Posted in Burma/Myanmar, Catholic, Catholic Charities, Karenni, Obama administration, San Antonio, State Department, Texas, USCCB | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Refugees in Concord, New Hampshire

Posted by Christopher Coen on February 12, 2010

The Concord Monitor has written an editorial rebuking the federal government for failing to compensate local communities for costs, such as schooling for refugee children.

Unfortunately the editorial staff apparently doesn’t know that the federal government does not force refugees on any local communities. Refugee resettlement agencies place the refugees in cities of their choice, provided those cities are places that refugees have some reasonable chance of becoming self-sufficient, e.g. sites that have enough jobs when a recession isn’t in full swing. In other words Concord’s own charitable organizations, Catholic Charities and Lutheran Social Services, placed the refugees in Concord. The paper would do better to look a little closer to home when asking about accountability.

The editorial staff also seems to have just accepted – hook, line and sinker – the resettlement agencies’ arguments about not getting enough government funding. Everywhere you look on the internet , in the news, and from government itself, you read the same thing, and the Concord Monitor editorial staff seem to have just accepted that this so-called lack of public money accounts for all the problems in refugee resettlement.

That of course is where some critical thinking would have been highly useful. A simple question would have been, why should the government be required to cover all the costs incurred by charity organizations, such as the refugee resettlement organizations?

By the way, here is a State Department monitoring report for Lutheran Community Services (here).

I wrote a response to the editorial (see below).


The federal government doesn’t designate what communities must be refugee resettlement sites. That is decided by the private refugee resettlement contractors. National refugee agencies, such as Lutheran Immigration & Refugee Services (LIRS) and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) decide what affiliates to work with to resettle refugees. In Concord, Catholic Charities and Lutheran Social Services (LSS) have volunteered to join the refugee program, therefore, they are the groups responsible for making Concord a resettlement site.

It has not been more than a decade since the last increase in payments per refugee were made by the State Department. In FY 2001, the State department gave a per capita (per refugee) grant of $800 to each resettlement agency. Last year they were giving $900 per capita. It is now $1800 per capita. Their responsibilities have not been increased in response to this federal largess.

In addition, the federal contribution of public money was never meant to cover all the resettlement agencies’ costs. It was intended as seed money on top of which the resettlement agencies were required to add their own funds – after all, the resettlement agencies operate as charities, and should not be paying for all their programs with tax-payer money. Charity is voluntary – or at least it should be.

Aside from the State Department funding there is even greater funding from HSS via their Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). The government also continues to pay for welfare for eligible refugees after their resettlement period has ended – after 8 months. The refugee resettlement agencies’ (“charities”) constant demands, with the media’s assistance, for more public funding for refugees is embarrassing. They should be expending their efforts instead on raising additional private funds.

The editorial is correct that funding to schools for refugees is a problem during recessions, when refugee parents are not able to work and contribute to the local tax base. The ORR does provide some assistance, e.g. the Refugee School Impact Grant, intended to provide support to local school systems that are affected by significant numbers of refugee children. In 2009 it was a 15 million dollar program with 35 grantees.

Christopher Coen
Friends of Refugees

Posted in government, LIRS, Nepali Bhutanese, New Hampshire, ORR, State Department | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Catholic Charities in Houston neglects LGBT refugee

Posted by Christopher Coen on February 12, 2010

An article the Dallas Voice media source has reported that Catholic Charities in Houston has neglected a gay refugee client. Apparently some refugees get required refugee program items and others don’t. Is this a case of the regular failure of some refugee resettlement agencies to give basics, or was the refugee neglected due to his sexual orientation?

Catholic Charities provides many of the services in this country for refugees and is funded through the federal government. Their Web site says they provide “Apartment rent and furnishings.” Ali said that their Iraqi neighbors in Houston got both. He was given a bare apartment. Knotts agrees that Catholic Charities offers families services and provides for basic needs that they have denied the gay men.

Couldn’t Catholic Charities have at least garbage-picked some clean furniture for these refugee men? What about also just purchasing a few low-cost household items for them at a garage sale?

Here’s a State Department monitoring report for this resettlement agency.

UPDATE: February 26, 2010 (here)

Posted in Houston, Iraqi, LGBT refugees, Operational Guidance, Texas, USCCB | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »