Oregon lawmakers are asking for $ 18 million to aid resettlement of 1,200 refugees


A family of four arrives at Portland International Airport on November 20, 2021, some of the hundreds of refugees who recently came to Oregon from Afghanistan. The state plans to welcome over 570 people by the end of February 2022.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

Oregon lawmakers, who lead efforts to relocate Afghan refugees, are calling on the legislature’s emergency committee for an additional $ 18 million to expand services and capacity.

In a letter issued last week by MP Khanh Pham and Senator Kayse Jama, the two Portland area Democrats stressed the need for the state to invest in everything from housing assistance and case management to providing legal services to newly arrived Afghans.

According to the letter, the state is preparing to take in around 1,200 people over the next 12 months, 570 of whom are expected by the end of February.

Dozens of refugees have already arrived in Oregon. The five resettlement agencies in Portland and Salem are currently working to find long-term housing while providing culture-specific education, including language and vocational training, schooling for families with children, and legal aid.

Jama and Pham praised the work that had already started. However, both said that future work will require further investment from the state.

“We (are) proud of Oregon’s elected leaders and Oregonians … who have declared that we must do our part in this humanitarian crisis,” the letter reads. “We very much appreciate your attention and support on this urgent matter in order to provide adequate resources to welcome our future neighbors.”

The $ 18 million Jama and Pham are applying for is a 12-month plan broken down into four silos: $ 5.3 million in support of the Department of Human Services’ business continuity management unit; $ 3.7 million in support of case management and outreach; $ 6 million in housing aid; and $ 2.9 million in legal services.

Part of the funding application would create a full-time refugee accommodation coordinator within DHS who would identify vacancies, coordinate mediation between the five relocation agencies and develop relationships with property managers.

Dollars to provide legal services would support refugees who arrive under “humanitarian probation” status and must immediately apply for permanent immigration. Many people will need help navigating the complex immigration system in order to avoid deportation from the country.

Jama and Pham also noted that they have started discussions with philanthropic organizations willing to provide funding for government funding.

According to the letter, the Immigrant and Refugees Funder Collaborative – supported by the Meyer Memorial Trust, MRG Foundation, Pride Foundation, and Oregon Community Foundation – is ready to provide additional support for the state’s efforts.

“These organizations have committed funds to refugee resettlement organizations to recruit additional staff and provide limited program support. By leveraging government and philanthropic dollars, government investments will have a greater impact, ”the letter said.

Jama said there was no set schedule for when the 18-member emergency committee – comprised of Senate President Peter Courtney and House spokeswoman Tina Kotek, as well as the chairs of both chambers’ budget committees – could meet to consider the application.

“We want to make sure that the institutions and people who take in refugees are supported. That is really the aim of our work, ”he said.

Attached to last week’s letter from Jama and Pham was another letter, signed by each of the state’s five relocation agencies, calling on the Emergency Committee to respond to the legislature’s request.

Matthew Westerbeck, Director of Refugee Services for Oregon Catholic Charities, greets a family arriving at Portland International Airport on November 20, 2021, some of the hundreds of refugees who recently came to Oregon from Afghanistan.  The state plans to welcome over 570 people by the end of February 2022.

Matthew Westerbeck, Director of Refugee Services for Oregon Catholic Charities, greets a family arriving at Portland International Airport on November 20, 2021, some of the hundreds of refugees who recently came to Oregon from Afghanistan. The state plans to welcome over 570 people by the end of February 2022.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

Matthew Westerbeck, director of resettlement services for Oregon Catholic Charities, said he believes the state’s commitment on the matter is imperative for organizations like its hosting more individuals and families in Oregon with the highest service.

According to Westerbeck, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and stunted hiring market have challenged relocation agencies at a time when they are urged to help more refugees in a shorter window of time than ever before.

“Catholic charities have welcomed more people in the past five weeks than we have welcomed in all of fiscal 2020 and 2021,” said Westerbeck. “Capacity growth is only massively accelerating and is necessary, so we are thinking about how to ensure that we have all the right elements to move forward safely and in a family-friendly manner.”


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