Following the money trail from Washington, D.C. to Akron

By Trista Bowser and London Green

Twenty-four thousand refugees have relocated in Ohio over the past decade, more than all but seven other states. Nonprofit organizations use federal and privately donated funds to resettle refugees.

State Refugee Coordinator Jennifer Johnson oversees all the different aspects of refugee resettlement, from how many refugees Ohio receives every year to how much money Ohio receives for refugees.

“All of our funding is federal funding,” explained Johnson. “There’s no state funding involved.”

Johnson explains that each state receives money from the Office of Refugee Resettlement. There, various resettlement agencies in Ohio enter into grant agreements to perform these services for refugees.

“The formula to fund us from the federal government depends on how many refugees we are going to receive and how many refugees we’ve had in the past,” Johnson said. “Ohio has given that amount as a whole and then we divide it up based on the providers where refugees are resettled.”

In the 2018 fiscal year, the Office of Resettlement had an appropriation for a total of $1,841,181,000, which includes a total of $537,936,000 designated for supporting the Refugee Resettlement Program. The chart below represents 2018 (the last year that the annual report documented) ORR Funding by Program.

ORR for the Annual Report to Congress 2018.

The International Institute of Akron (IIA) is Akron’s refugee resettlement organization. IIA orients immigrants and refugees to their new community within Akron. They provide a cultural orientation within their first 90 days where they cover everything from housing to legal services to how to get help if they are experiencing personal trauma.

The US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants-Cleveland office, IIA’s national partner, assigns the refugees that they get. After the assignment, each individual then has a dollar amount attached to them. 

“That individual each gets about twelve hundred dollars in their own account that we manage,” said Walter. 

That money is generally used for rent and basic living essentials like groceries. Ultimately, the funds that IIA gets depend on how many refugees come to Akron. 

In 2020, the total revenue was $2,011,853. This was broken down into the following categories: Federal Program Revenue, Fees For Service, In-Kind Contributions, Foundation and Grant Revenue, Contributions, and Other. Below is a graph representing how much money went into each of the categories.

Photo courtesy of IIA’s Financial Report.
Photo courtesy of IIA’s Financial Report

The money that the state receives every year differs, depending on how much the federal government approves. “The state has no say in how much they should get, ” says Kevin Walter, the IIA’s advocacy and community outreach coordinator.

In the 2021 fiscal year, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services spent more than $6.1 million on refugee program assistance. 

After the state receives the money for refugee resettlement, it then gets divided up and sent to different areas.

Hilary Lucas, the program administrator for Catholic Charities Migration and Refugee Services in Cleveland, explained that the federal money the state receives for refugees is divided the same way throughout each refugee organization in Ohio.

“The Reception and Placement program is within the first 90 days the refugees arrive and that’s when we begin to use the federal dollars,” Lucas explained. “They have specific things that need to be bought for the client, like a house, so deposit and rent needs to be paid. Everybody needs a bed. Everybody needs a towel. Everybody needs their own bar of soap. So, so on and so forth.”

Lucas explained that the money starts off with the President and determines how many refugees we can accept into the United States each year. Once that’s done, a budget is put into place to see how much money each refugee will obtain. The Department of State provides funding to the refugee programs across the individual states.

After determining the budget per refugee along with how many can come into the country, it is time to divide the refugees up and send them to different refugee resettlement programs in different states. When the state has the number of refugees that are coming in and finds a program to send them to, that will show how much money each program will get from the state.

Those are the requirements, how we get those things can be using those federal dollars. It can be through in-kind donations, or it can be purchased with donated funds. If we use in-kind donations, we don’t have to spend those federal dollars. If we can’t use those donations or we don’t have them, then we have to tap into the federal dollars,” explained Lucas.

To determine how much money IIA will acquire in 2022 and in the coming years is dependent on many factors. It is hard to tell what the future will look like for their budget, however, the number of refugees that Ohio obtains will decide how much money IIA will get.

“In the way we budget, we work with the national partner based on the presidential determination, which is how many refugees they say we’re going to get in a year, then we will have an idea of how many people to expect,” said Walter.

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Trista Bowser