Oregon lawmakers leading the Afghan refugee resettlement effort are asking the Legislative Assembly’s emergency council for an additional $ 18 million to expand services and capacity.
In a letter released last week by Representative Khanh Pham and Senator Kayse Jama, the two Portland-area Democrats underscored the need for the state to invest in everything from housing assistance and management of cases to legal services for newly arrived Afghans.
According to the letter, the state is preparing to welcome around 1,200 people over the next 12 months, of which 570 are expected to arrive by the end of February.
Dozens of refugees have already arrived in Oregon. The five resettlement agencies operating in Portland and Salem are currently working to identify long-term housing while providing culturally specific education, including language and vocational training, schooling for families with children, and legal aid.
Jama and Pham praised the work which has already started. But both said future work will require additional investment from the state.
“We (are) proud of the elected leaders of Oregon and Oregonians… who have said we must do our part in this humanitarian crisis,” the letter reads. “We deeply appreciate your attention and support on this urgent matter to allocate adequate resources to welcome our future neighbors.”
The $ 18 million requested by Jama and Pham represents a 12-month plan divided into four silos: $ 5.3 million to support the Emergency Management Unit of the Department of Social Services; $ 3.7 million to strengthen case management and community outreach; $ 6 million for housing assistance; and $ 2.9 million for legal services.
Part of the funding request would create a full-time refugee housing coordinator within DHS who would identify vacancies, coordinate placement among the five resettlement agencies, and build relationships with property managers.
Dollars to provide legal services would support refugees arriving under “humanitarian parole” status who must immediately apply for permanent immigration. Many people will need help navigating the complex immigration system to avoid being deported from the country.
Jama and Pham also noted that they have started conversations with philanthropic organizations willing to add financial support to state funding.
According to the letter, the Immigrant and Refugees Funder Collaborative – which is supported by the Meyer Memorial Trust, the MRG Foundation, the Pride Foundation and the Oregon Community Foundation – is set to provide further support to the state’s efforts. .
“These organizations are committed to funding refugee resettlement organizations to hire additional staff and provide limited support to the program. By leveraging federal and philanthropic dollars, state investments will have a greater impact, ”the letter said.
Jama said there was no specific timeline on when the 18-member emergency council – which includes Senate Speaker Peter Courtney and House Speaker Tina Kotek, as well as committee chairs budget of both chambers – could meet to consider the request.
“We want to make sure that the agencies and people who welcome refugees are supported. This is really the goal of our work, ”he said.
Attached to Jama and Pham’s letter last week was another letter signed by each of the state’s five resettlement agencies, urging the emergency council to act on lawmakers’ request.
Matthew Westerbeck, director of relocation services for Catholic Charities Oregon, said he believed the state’s engagement in this issue was essential for organizations like its welcoming more individuals and families in Oregon with the highest standard of service.
According to Westerbeck, the persistent COVID-19 pandemic and the slowdown in the employment market have posed challenges for resettlement agencies at a time when they are being asked to help more refugees in a shorter window than ever before.
“Catholic charities have welcomed more people in the past five weeks than we have in fiscal 2020 and 2021,” Westerbeck said. “Capacity growth is just massively accelerated and needed, so we’re thinking about how we make sure we have all the right pieces in place to move forward in a way that’s appropriate and safe for families. “