"As the Trump administration has sought to curtail the country’s refugee program, local resettlement agencies have been forced to make cuts and are struggling to keep their programs afloat.
'We live a little bit on a roller coaster, and yet we are trying very hard to just maintain stability here . . .' said Maxine Stein, president and chief executive of Jewish Family Service of Western Massachusetts. 'A lot is up in the air, frankly.'
Many agencies receive most of their funding on a per-capita basis from the federal government, and far fewer refugees have made their way to the United States this year. (The country hit a 50,000-person limit last week). A ruling by a federal judge in Hawaii on Thursday allowed certain refugees keep coming to the United States, but overall numbers for this fiscal year will still fall below the resettlement agencies’ expectations.
As a result, Massachusetts agencies have scaled back staff and programs — and some have considered shuttering their resettlement branches entirely.
'There’s a point where you can only take so few refugees and be able to sustain your program,' said Marjean Perhot, the director of refugee and immigration services for Catholic Charities of Boston.
Once a refugee lands on US soil, resettlement agencies become the first line of support. Case workers and volunteers pick up arrivals at the airport, take them to housing that the agencies have helped to secure, and spend the ensuing months helping to acclimate refugees to life in America.
When he was president, Barack Obama set the cap at 110,000 refugees for the year ending in September 2017, and resettlement agencies set their budgets accordingly.
But President Trump has pushed to dramatically cut the number of refugees allowed into the country After several legal challenges, the Supreme Court reinforced his 50,000 ceiling for refugees and ruled that beyond that cap, only refugees with a “bona fide relationship” to a US entity would be allowed entry.
As the Trump administration and the courts wrangled over the limitations, refugee arrivals slowed.
In Massachusetts, monthly arrivals fell from 176 in October to 73 in May — leaving resettlement agencies with crippling budget shortfalls.
The organizations receive an initial sum of $950 per refugee from the federal government to support operations, plus grants to finance specific services.
Directors across the state said that this funding is critical to sustaining their programs.
'Private support does not make up for federal support,' said Angela Bovill, Ascentria Care Alliance’s chief executive. 'When you take out the underpinning that is the federal government support . . . the program is hamstrung.'
With private dollars unable to fill budget holes, some directors have been left with no choice but to lay off staff, they said.
Government funds make up three-fourths of the International Institute of New England’s $1.27 million resettlement budget, and CEO Jeffrey Thielman said he has cut at least four full-time positions to offset a 21 percent reduction in funding.
Ascentria, which receives all of its core resettlement budget from the government, eliminated 17 positions in Massachusetts after a $611,000 shortfall."