Feds release $71.5M withheld during migrant crisis

Published 9:53 am Friday, September 19, 2014

MIAMI — Groups that provide refugee services across the United States expressed relief Thursday after the federal government announced the release of $71.5 million it had reprogrammed in June to deal with the thousands of unaccompanied minors who crossed the border this year.

The Department of Health and Human Services told the states on Thursday that the money would be released because the flow of migrants had fallen.

Health and Human Services Spokesman Kenneth Wolfe said the funds were released on Sept. 15, adding there were no immediate plans to withhold funds in 2015. Originally HHS had said in June that more than $90 million would be withheld as the agency dealt with a crisis involving minors streaming over the border from Mexico. Unaccompanied children who migrate to the United States also fall under the auspices of the federal refugee office.

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That number was slightly reduced later to $71.5 million, but groups across the country still scrambled to scale back programs such as English language classes, job counseling and tutoring.

“Today’s announcement ensures refugees who live in Florida will get the services they need to become self-sufficient and thrive in their new communities,” said Hiram Ruiz, who heads up Florida’s refugee services.

The funds are distributed to all 50 states with the bulk of the money going to Florida, California, Texas, New York, Michigan and Minnesota.

Florida receives the largest chunk of the refugee services money, some $20 million in discretionary funding. Much of the money goes to its large populations of Cubans and Haitians, as well as refugees and others from around the world seeking or granted asylum. Florida also receives large numbers of unaccompanied minors, in part because of its history of taking in young children and others during crises such as the Haitian earthquake and the 1980 Cuban Mariel boat lift.

In Florida, Youth Co-Op was forced to cut classes at its tutoring program, which prepare 500 Cuban, Haitian and other immigrant youths for entry into the public school system. Catholic Charities, which oversees most of Florida’s refugee-related services, spent the summer working with a range of nonprofits to restructure their programs for the possibility the money wouldn’t be restored. Other states such as Maryland and Texas sought state or private donations to make up the difference.

Over the summer, Tennessee officials said they had temporarily scaled back some school programs for refuge students and that some service providers were laid off because of the funding delay. Alec Loftus, a spokesman for Massachusetts’ state health and human services agency, said his agency had been working closely with local providers and federal partners to reduce the effects the cuts would have on immigrants in the state.