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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families
August 2000

Refugee Assistance Programs


Since 1975, approximately 2,325,000 refugees have been resettled in the United States. In order to be designated as refugees, people must have a well-founded fear of persecution in their country of origin because of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. In order to be admitted to the United States, refugees usually must have a special tie to the U.S., such as: former employment by the U.S. Government or a U.S. company; previous education; close relatives living in the U.S.; and/or persecution specifically related to an individual's association with the U.S. Government. Refugees may also be admitted on humanitarian grounds. In FY l998, over 90,000 refugees, entrants,and Amerasians were admitted to the U.S. for resettlement.

The major goal of this program is to provide assistance in order to help refugees achieve economic self-sufficiency and social adjustment within the shortest time possible following their arrival in the U.S. For FY 2000, $453 million is available through five different programs: cash and medical assistance, social services, preventive health services, the voluntary agency matching grant program, and the targeted assistance grant program.

Cash and Medical Assistance

Cash and medical assistance are available to needy refugees -- who are not eligible for other cash or medical assistance programs, such as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or Medicaid -- who arrive in the U.S. with no financial resources. This refugee assistance, if needed, is paid entirely from federal funds and is available for eight months following arrival in the U.S.

ACF also reimburses states for the costs incurred in the case of refugee children in the U.S. who are identified in countries of first asylum as unaccompanied minors. Depending on their individual needs, refugee children are placed in foster care, group care, independent living, or residential treatment.

Social Services

To help refugees become self-supporting as quickly as possible, ACF also provides funding to state governments and private, non-profit agencies which are responsible for providing services, such as English language and employment training. Refugees receiving cash and medical assistance are required to be enrolled in employment services and to accept offers of employment.

Preventive Services

For FY 1999 and FY 2000, funds have been provided to state public health departments for preventive health assessment and treatment services to refugees for protection of the public health against contagious diseases.

Voluntary Agency Matching Grant Program

This program requires match from private funds or in-kind goods and services. During the refugees' first four months in the U.S., several voluntary resettlement agencies take responsibility for resettling refugees and assisting them to become self-sufficient through private initiatives without recourse to public assistance.

Targeted Assistance Grant Program

This program targets additional resources to communities facing extraordinary resettlement problems because of a high concentration of refugees and a high use of public assistance by the resident refugee population. Special efforts are directed to those refugees who depend upon public assistance.

Victims of Torture

In FY 2000, $7,265,000 is available to provide a comprehensive program of support for domestic centers and programs for victims of torture. The Office of Refugee Resettlement seeks to use these funds to provide direct services to victims of torture, including treatment and rehabilitation, social and legal services, and research and training for heath care providers to enable them to treat the physical and psychological effects of torture. Special emphasis is placed on timely and appropriate services to asylum applicants entering the United States who have been recent victims of torture.

Refugee Population Highlights

Since 1975, approximately 2,325,000 refugees have been resettled in the United States. In FY l999, nearly 107,000 refugees, entrants, and Amerasians were admitted to the U.S. for resettlement.

Distribution by State for FY 1999 Refugee Arrivals

From FY 1983 through FY 1999, over 1.6 million refugees (39% Southeast Asian and 61% non-Southeast Asian) have been resettled in the U.S. The five States with the largest refugee arrivals for this period were: California (391,763); New York (224,115); Florida (165,048); Texas (83,978); and Washington (69,804).

From FY 1983 through FY 1999, more Southeast Asians initially resettled in California than any other State (36 percent). For the same period, more non-Southeast Asians resettled in New York than any other State (20 percent). The majority of refugees initially resettled in California were from Vietnam (40 percent) followed by refugees from the former Soviet Union (22 percent). Sixty-nine percent of the refugees initially resettled in New York were from the former Soviet Union followed by refugees from Vietnam (eight percent). Eighty percent of refugees initially resettled in Florida were from Cuba and Haiti. In Texas, refugees from Vietnam (52 percent) and refugees from the former Yugoslavia (nine percent) made up the largest proportion. In the State of Washington, refugees from the former Soviet Union (40 percent) and refugees from Vietnam (30 percent) made up the largest proportion.

Temporary Assistance in Time of Crisis

The Social Security Act authorizes the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to provide temporary assistance to United States citizens and their dependents who are identified by the Department of State as needing to return from a foreign country to the U.S., but do not have resources to do so. This financial assistance is repayable to the U.S. Government.

HHS administers the Repatriation Program. If an American citizen in a foreign country becomes ill, is without funds, or needs to be returned to the U.S. because of a threatening situation in a foreign country, HHS will provide needed services.

For situations involving the evacuation of a group of Americans from a foreign country, HHS may be requested to establish reception sites as well as provide individual assistance. The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) operates both individual and group repatriation programs through agreements with state agencies.

A National Emergency Repatriation Plan is also established by HHS in coordination with other involved federal agencies, voluntary organizations, and states to implement large scale repatriation operations in the event of a national security emergency. Under the National Emergency Repatriation Plan, states carry out the operational responsibility for the reception, temporary care, and onward transportation of those returned to the U.S. States include emergency repatriation in their overall Emergency Operations Plan used to respond to emergency situations.

This document is not necessarily endorsed by the Almanac of Policy Issues. It is being preserved  in the Policy Archive for historic reasons.[an error occurred while processing this directive]

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