By Dave Fidlin | The Center Square
Workforce development, enrollment into English language courses, and driver’s license procurement has eaten away at $500,000 in Vermont’s budget earmarked “aid to refugees.”
So when a Haitian man and his young son recently showed up at the border, as snow fell, there was nowhere for them to go and no budget. It is a situation that could repeat: refugees to the state are up 239% since 2019, the year before the pandemic.
“I got a call from the border patrol two weeks ago,” Tracy Dolan, director of the Vermont State Refugee Office within the Agency of Human Services, told the Senate Committee on Appropriations in their meeting this week. “A Haitian man had shown up with his young son; it was snowing out. The directions are to let them in. There’s nobody for them, so I referred them to one of the asylum seeking organizations to help them out. There’s no budget for them.”
Dolan and her office are seeking seeking additional funds – $350,000 – to assist with resettlement efforts. In some instances, Dolan said the State Refugee Office can only use federal funds for specific recipients – most notably, people coming from Afghanistan and Ukraine.
Dolan’s appearance before the committee served as an opportunity to provide testimony. No official next steps were mapped out, though further direction could take place in the months ahead.
The State Refugee Office collaborates with the state’s two resettlement agencies: the Vermont office of the U.S. Committees for Refugees and Immigrants, and the Ethiopian Community Development Council.
The increase from 2019 is significant in part because of the difference from the COVID-19 years. In 2020 and 2021, there were only 21 and 47 refugees, respectively.
While there are processes in place for widespread cases, such as the Afghanistan evacuation, Dolan said the more isolated, case-by-case occurrences can be complex and are part of the office’s request for additional funding.