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Buffalo's refugee agencies petition state to cover federal funding gap under Trump

As refugee arrivals continue to plummet during the Trump Administration, four Western New York resettlement agencies are petitioning the state to more than double its funding for refugee support and integration programs.

The proposal would increase annual funding to $4.5 million from $2 million, the programs’ annual cost for the past two fiscal years. Service organizations say they need the additional funds to provide critical services to the almost 40,000 refugees who have settled in New York since 2006 – more than 12,700 of them in Erie County.

Such organizations have seen their statewide federal funding fall by $4.5 million from 2016 levels, according to the left-leaning Fiscal Policy Institute. Federal funding is allotted on the basis of new refugee arrivals, which have also dropped sharply over that period.

But while the number of brand-new arrivals is down, said Eva Hassett, the executive director of the International Institute of Buffalo, agencies are still straining to connect thousands of other recent arrivals with language classes, job training, transportation and other important services. The International Institute joined Catholic Charities of Buffalo, Jewish Family Service of Buffalo and Erie County, Journey’s End Refugee Services and 10 other agencies from around the state in making the budget request to the governor’s office and the State Legislature.

Despite advocates’ appeals, however, neither the State Senate nor executive budget bills include any funding for the program, and the Assembly bill allocates only $2 million. A final budget is expected in early April.

“Without that state money, this community will not have the competent capacity … to help the foreign-born be successful,” Hassett said. “And that’s bad for everybody.”

In particular, agencies say, federal funding reductions have made it difficult for them to provide services to all but the newest refugees. The federal government gives agencies $1,000 for each refugee they resettle, to be used to provide services in their first 90 days in the country.

But New York’s new arrivals dropped from 5,830 in 2016 to fewer than 1,400 in 2018, cutting statewide federal funding to less than half its 2016 levels, according to a Fiscal Policy Institute analysis. In each of those years, New York State partially offset the losses through its $2 million Enhanced Services to Refugees Program, which, compared to federal funds, comes with fewer usage restrictions.

The program has funded language classes and other integration services for refugees who cannot regularly leave their homes within the 90-day federal window, such as mothers of young children and senior citizens with mobility problems, Hassett said. Advocates also argue the state funding could be used to attract more secondary migrants to Buffalo, such as the “several thousand” Bangladeshis who have already relocated to the East Side from downstate.

These migrants have bought homes, filled job vacancies and offset regional population loss, Hassett said. Between 2010 and 2017, Erie County lost some 20,000 people to other U.S. cities, according to the Census Bureau. But it gained 24,641 new international residents over the same period.

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