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Funding the Refugee Program

 

MRS/USCCB Position

MRS/USCCB engages with the federal appropriations process to obtain the maximum amount of funding needed to support the U.S. refugee program, which provides both overseas assistance and resettlement services to refugees.  Each year, MRS/USCCB advocates for funding levels that maximize the number of refugees assisted overseas and resettled in the United States, and that provide resettlement agencies sufficient resources to serve refugees in a comprehensive manner. In order to continue to be a world leader in humanitarian protection and to adequately welcome those refugees who we admit to the U.S. each year, it is essential that we robustly fund overseas refugee protection and the admission of refugees to the United States.

In addition to government funding, Migration and Refugee Services accepts donations from private individuals to provide services that are not covered by government grants through the National Catholic Fund for Migration and Refugee Services and Passing on Hope.  

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How the Refugee Program Works

The U.S. refugee program is operated by three federal agencies - the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) of the U.S. State Department; the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the asylum division of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Through PRM, the Department of State works in close conjunction with international organizations, such as the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), to provide life-sustaining assistance to refugees in countries of asylum. The Department also works closely with international organizations, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to identify and admit a relatively small number of refugees into the United States through its refugee admissions program.

ORR is charged with resettling and integrating refugees and other entrants in the United States.  ORR's mission has grown to include assisting numerous other vulnerable populations in the United States, including victims of trafficking and torture, Cuban/Haitian Entrants, Indochinese Parolees, Iraqi and Afghani Special Immigrants, and unaccompanied children.

USCIS of DHS provides the adjudicators needed to interview refugees considered for admission to the United States and to ascertain whether their persecution claims are consistent with U.S. refugee law.This function is funded by application fees paid by immigrants applying for other visas.MRS/USCCB has advocated that Congress appropriate funds for this function to supplement the fees, so that funding shortfalls do not occur.

How the Budget Process Works

Each year, the President submits a budget to Congress by the first Monday in February for the following fiscal year.This budget request is formulated over a period of months with help from the Office of Management and Budget, and it includes funding requests for all federal executive departments and independent agencies.The budget proposal includes substantial supporting information to justify the necessity and value of the budget provisions, and each federal and independent agency provides additional detail and supporting documentation to Congress on its own funding requests.

After the budget request is submitted, congressional committees submit their "views and estimates" of spending and revenues within their respective jurisdictions to the House and Senate Committees on the Budget, who then use this information to develop budget resolutions.These resolutions are essentially agreements between the House and Senate concerning the overall size of the federal budget, and the general composition of the budget in terms of functional categories.Budget resolutions are submitted to their respective floors for consideration and adoption by April 15.Once both houses pass the resolution, Representatives and Senators negotiate a conference report to reconcile differences between the House and Senate versions.

Direct spending refers to spending enacted by law, but not dependent on an annual or periodic appropriations bill.Discretionary spending requires annual appropriations bills, which must be enacted prior to the beginning of each fiscal year (October 1).After the budget resolution passes, the 12 appropriations subcommittees in each chamber set funding levels for individual government programs and write up detailed instructions for the agencies that oversee them.If this action does not happen by that time, which is a common occurrence, Congress must provide interim funding for the programs in question through a "continuing resolution".

MRS/USCCB advocates for increased and improved funding for refugees at every step of the budget process.Though the President's budget request is not submitted until February of the prior fiscal year (February 2011 for the fiscal year 2012 budget cycle), MRS/USCCB meets each year with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in late summer in order to share our views on PRM's and ORR's funding needs and challenges as OMB begins their consideration of the U.S. budget for the next relevant fiscal year.  Prior to this meeting, information is gathered from all available sources in order to make informed recommendations on the funding levels for the various line items within these budgets for the fiscal year in question.

After the President's budget request is submitted in February, MRS/USCCB meets with key congressional offices, writes letters to appropriators and non-appropriators who have a say in the process, and testifies before relevant committees.In addition to requesting that specific amounts be appropriated for refugees, MRS/USCCB also helps Congress direct the agency on how to spend that money by drafting and sharing language to be included in the directive reports which accompany the appropriations bill.

Funding for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration

The State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Bill appropriates funds for the Department of State and the federal government's foreign assistance programs, including the Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA) and Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance (ERMA) programs and accounts. Those programs and accounts fund the bulk of federal government's refugee admissions and overseas refugee assistance programs. They are administered by PRM, which has primary responsibility for formulating policies on population, refugees, and migration, and for administering U.S. refugee assistance and admissions programs.  

PRM operates two accounts that assist refugees. The first of these is the MRA account, which the Department of State uses to fund the federal government's refugee admissions and overseas refugee assistance programs.  The MRA account includes funding for the Resettlement and Placement (R and P) grant provided to initially resettle refugees in the United States.The second is the Emergency Refugee Migration Assistance (ERMA) account, a no-year account that holds funds that the President can draw down from in order to meet emergency refugee needs.

FY 2012 MRA and ERMA Appropriations
While we feel the need is greater, considering the difficulty of the current budget environment MRS/USCCB is recommending that, for Fiscal Year (FY) 2012, Congress maintain current funding levels for refugee assistance and appropriate at least the total amount appropriated under the Migration and Refugee Assistance account in Fiscal Year 2011.This amount is $1.687 billion. For ERMA, we recommend doubling the current $100 million ceiling to $200 million.

It is essential to maintain this funding because:

  • The United States has long been the global leader in humanitarian response, stepping forward to provide a lifeline to groups like Burmese refugees in Thailand, Sudanese refugees in Chad, and Bhutanese refugees in Nepal.
  • If the United States and other leading donors reduce their humanitarian commitments, many displaced persons will be left without the most basic of services, destabilizing already strained conditions and placing increased pressure on poor countries hosting refugees.
  • Adequate funding will enable local communities in the United States to continue to provide newly arriving refugees with a successful welcome.
  • Funding at less than the level enacted in fiscal year 2011 would jeopardize U.S. capacity to provide the durable solution of resettlement to at least 80,000 refugees in 2012, and would prevent the United States from being able to respond to the urgent humanitarian needs of millions of refugees living in precarious situations overseas.

Funding for the Office of Refugee Resettlement

In FY 2011, ORR/HHS received $730.9 million in funding to provide services to more than 120,000 persons.This includes funding for transitional and medical services, social services, preventive health, and targeted assistance to refugees, as well as assistance to special populations such as trafficking victims, victims of torture, and unaccompanied alien children.ORR also administers the Match Grant program, used to help refugees gain self-sufficiency after initial governmental support expires.

FY 2012 ORR Appropriations
The support provided to refugees and special populations under current funding levels is inadequate.ORR needs a significant increase in funding to best serve those individuals and the communities welcoming them. However, with the massive funding cuts currently being considered by Congress in mind, we are asking for a moderate increase in ORR funding. Specifically, we are asking Congress to support the President's request of $824.694 million for the Office of Refugee Resettlement in Fiscal Year 2012, which is an increase of $95.256 million over Fiscal Year 2011's appropriation.

Below is a chart which lists the funding levels for previous years' ORR budgets and includes our recommendations for FY 2012 appropriations based on an 80,000 refugee admissions level.

 

TABLE1: Overview of Funding and Funding Needs of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (in millions)

  Item/Account FY '10 Actual FY '11 House FY '11 Senate FY '11 Obama FY '11 Actual
 

Transitional and Medical Services

$353.3

$353.3

$353.3

$417.0

$352.594

 

Refugee Social Services

$154.0

$154.0

$ 54.0

$179.0

$153.692

 

Preventive Health

$4.7

$4.7

$4.7

$4.7

$4.691

 

Targeted Assistance

$48.6

$ 48.6

$48.6

$ 48.6

$48.502

  Subtotal – Refugee and 
Asylee Resettlement 
Services
$560.6  $560.6 $560.6 $649.3 $559.479
 

Assistance to Trafficking Victims

$9.8

$9.8

$ 9.8

$9.8

$9.780

 

Assistance to Torture Victims

$11.0

$11.0

$11.0

$11.0

$10.978

 

Unaccompanied Alien Children

$124.3

$149.3

$149.3

$207.0

$149.001

  Total – Office of Refugee
Resettlement
$705.9 $730.9 $730.9 $877.6 $729.438


 

TABLE 1 CONTINUED: Overview of Funding and Funding Needs of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (in millions)

  Item/Account   FY '12 Obama   FY '12 Needs Assessment  
 

Transitional and Medical Services

 

$394.224

 

$469.5

 
 

Refugee Social Services

 

$154.005

 

$204.0

 
 

Preventive Health

 

$4.748

 

$6.4

 
 

Targeted Assistance

 

$48.590

 

$61.0

 
  Subtotal – Refugee and AsyleeResettlement Services   $601.567   $715.9  
 

Assistance to Trafficking Victims

 

$9.814

 

$15.0

 
 

Assistance to Torture Victims

 

$11.088

 

$25.0

 
 

Unaccompanied Alien Children

 

$177.225

 

$207.0

 
  Total – Office of Refugee Resettlement   $824.694   $987.9  


 

Increased funding is most needed in the following areas

Emergency Housing Assistance
The Administration's FY '12 proposal includes $10 million in funding for housing assistance to help refugee households avoid homelessness, and we support this proposal. While the federally funded programs administered by local refugee resettlement agencies are highly successful in assisting refugees in securing employment and housing, the temporary assistance they receive upon arrival is often not sufficient to cover their housing costs before they have attained self-sufficiency. Safe and decent housing is central to successful integration for any newcomer.

Voluntary Matching Grant Program
The Voluntary Matching Grant program enables refugees and other eligible persons to become self-sufficient without resorting to federal and state welfare programs.The program leverages public funds with private donations at a 2:1 ratio, requiring private voluntary agencies to match Federal government contributions. Despite the economic recession, it remains the most successful program in helping refugees achieve self-sufficiency. We recommend expanding this program in order to allow more refugees to access it and to increase the amount of support they receive.

Case Management for Highly Vulnerable Refugees
We support the Administration's inclusion of $15 million to provide intensive case management for vulnerable refugees such as victims of torture, women heads of households, and those who are disabled or have serious medical issues in its FY 2012 budget proposal.As the U.S. continues to welcome greater numbers of refugees with special needs, there is an increased need for these types of services, particularly longer term and more intensive assistance to help refugees achieve self-sufficiency and integrate into their communities.

Preventative Health
While needs for medical and mental health services have increased, funding for these services has been stagnant for more than a decade. We recommend increasing funding for this line item so that victims of torture, trafficking, and trauma; refugee with disabilities and chronic illnesses; and those who have had little or no access to Western medicine can be served.

Employment Services
We recommend allocating $12.4 million in Targeted Assistance funding to provide highly educated and professional refugees with training, recertification and accreditation assistance, language acquisition, and job placement. By helping refugees pursue their careers, this funding will benefit businesses and communities.This funding would also increase refugee employment rates and decrease refugee welfare utilization by providing employment services to unemployed refugees and incentives to certain employers who hire refugees in order to spur economic growth and successful integration.

Assistance to Torture and Trafficking Victims
We recommend expanding services to victims of torture and trafficking in the United States. Funding for torture rehabilitation has remained static for many years, resulting in a demand for services that exceeds resources and has caused programs to close or drastically scale back services. Refugee health screenings of newly arriving Iraqi refugees indicate a torture prevalence rate of 85 percent. ORR also serves victims of trafficking and develops outreach activities to identify and serve victims. While the number of trafficking victims served has risen, funding levels have not risen since the program's inception, and service periods are currently too short to allow victims to attain self-sufficiency before losing this life-saving support.

Unaccompanied Children
In FY 2010, ORR served more than 8,200 unaccompanied alien minors and nearly 1000 unaccompanied refugee minors. ORR will need $207 million in fiscal year 2012 to continue serving unaccompanied alien children, to fund the use of more child-centered placement options and to improve services to these children, including expansion of pro bono placement programs matching detained and released children with legal counsel. In addition, funding for the unaccompanied refugee minor program is included in the Transitional and Medical Services budget line item, and provides housing, medical care, mental health, and other services to refugee and immigrant children with no one else to care for them. As greater numbers of children continue to be served by this program, we recommend a $71.5 million allocation for this program.



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