Albany, NY: USCRI office “maxed out”

There is nothing really new to this story, we are hearing it everywhere—refugee office receiving more refugees then they can handle.   From the Albany Times Union:

The majority of the 350 refugees who will be resettled in the Capital Region this year will come from Burma, Bhutan and Iraq. They have fled war, famine, sectarian violence and ethnic cleansing.

The Albany field office of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants took over for the International Center of the Capital Region in 2005 and resettled 50 refugees that year, primarily from Afghanistan, Congo, Liberia, Uzbekistan and Burma.

In 2009, the not-for-profit agency has maxed out its capacity and is in dire need of volunteers and donations to provide furniture, cooking supplies and other essentials that government subsidies don’t cover for the steady wave of new arrivals.

I’m sure the director of the office has all the best intentions in the world, but she is a 27-year-old photographer in charge here of hundreds of lives.   The assumption is always made that the work these agencies do is in the best interests of the human beings in their care. Is it possible that maybe that is not so, that the policies of the quasi-government agencies, like USCRI might even be cruel?

“We could really use more help,” said director Zoeann Murphy, 27, who took over last summer after spending a year with Tibetan and Karen refugees in refugee camps. She offered photography training and passed out digital cameras as part of a storytelling project.

More background on USCRI to make my point.

We have written on many previous occasions about the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants and their affiliates (or subcontractors) to point out that some in their care may not be faring so well.  I am not saying that is so in Albany, a preferred community for refugee resettlement, only that we have seen it elsewhere.

In Waterbury, CT, the USCRI subcontractor, the International Institute of CT, was shuttered last year by the US State Department when they were found to be in violation of contractual requirements involving the resettlement of Burmese refugees.  The refugees were housed in slum apartments until local church groups stepped in to rescue them.  Go to this post I wrote in August about Waterbury, CT and follow links to our extensive coverage there.

The International Institute of Akron, also an USCRI subcontractor,  had similar problems last year, here.  I don’t know if the State Department stepped in in that case.

Missing money problems seemed to plague the International Institute of Erie, also last year, here.

Is USCRI really a not-for-profit agency or is it a quasi-government agency?

Here is a breakdown of the funds USCRI operated on in 2006.    Note that in its income category it reported in 2006 that almost $17 million of its $19 million dollar income was from government grants.   It’s actually higher than 90% funded by taxpayer support if you include funds from the United Nations (also taxpayer funded).

Although technically called a non-profit, it is really a government agency but without the safeguards we normally have with a government agency where citizens can complain to their elected officials. 

The 2006 report also tells us that USCRI’s CEO, Lavinia Limon, makes $195,678.  This Albany office received $321,687 that year.

A 2007 report here, informs us that Ms. Limon has been in and out the revolving door to government and that she was in charge of most of the funding for refugee resettlement agencies (the volags) through the Clinton Administration.

Lavinia Limon has more than 25 years of experience working on behalf of refugees and immigrants. Prior to joining USCRI in August of 2001, Ms. Limon was Director of the Center for the New American Community, a project of the National Immigration Forum. Ms. Limon served as the Director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, Department of Health and Human Services during the Clinton Administration, designing and implementing programs to assist newly arriving refugees in achieving economic and social self-sufficiency. She served simultaneously as the Director of the Office of Family Assistance for four years, helping to devise policies and strategies for implementing national welfare reform. Ms. Limon was previously the Executive Director of the International Institute of Los Angeles.

Note in this report that USCRI has changed its name several times over recent years, I wonder why.

formerly known as: U.S. Committee for Refugees
formerly known as: Immigration and Refugees Services of America

So, if you are wondering what’s the point I am trying to make:   Well, a bunch of points. 

* The public shouldn’t assume that because an organization says it is helping the poor refugee, it actually is. Look more closely, it may not be.

* The public should know there is loads of taxpayer money flowing through these groups and so therefore the public has a right to demand that their money is used wisely and humanely.   Groups like USCRI have signed contracts to provide certain needs to refugees and that is what they should be doing.

* And, finally, maybe this Albany office should tell its bosses that they need to slow the number of refugees coming to a “maxed out” office.  Maybe 350 is too many?  Regular readers will remember the words of a wise Iraqi refugee boy who said of the refugees flooding Tucson, AZ:

It is better to have 10 Iraqi refugees who are satisfied with their lives than having 100 angry ones with no life at all.

20 thoughts on “Albany, NY: USCRI office “maxed out”

  1. Following up on Tennresident’s comment, here is a story from Boston this week about how well Catholic Charities is doing there. It is even seeing a profit in one area relating to refugees

    “Some of Catholic Charities’ services do realize a profit, such as the refugee and immigration division’s translation and interpreting services, which earn $200,000 to $250,000 a year.”

    I just had a look at their financials and in their 2006 Form 990 they report $1.9 million in government grants and $26 million in government services and contracts in an overall revenue total of $38.5 million. So would these organizations exist without loads of taxpayer funding? NO!


  2. The mainstream media is running long-faced stories about how “faith-based” organizations like
    Catholic Charities are seeing government funding cuts because of the economy. Catholic Charities will be forced to lay off staff and cut back on services to the needy,etc. I can assure you the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops is in Washington advocating for more refugees which they, of course, will provide services for. Why? Because it is profitable – unlike providing services for needy American citizens.


  3. The 8 months of Refugee Cash Assistance and Refugee Medical Assistance is really just bus fare. The real money starts with, what for some, is a lifetime of welfare entitlements starting 30 days after arrival. MARS mentions TANF and other programs. Among those programs are Medicaid, housing aid, food stamps,SSI, WIC,state-level cash assistance sometimes called GA or General Assistance, etc. None of these have time limits such as those that apply to TANF. The biggest cash program used by refugees may be SSI for elderaly or disabled. Also, a lifetime entitlement.

    MARS, I have to say, unscrupulous volags and their HUNDREDS of spin-off organizations DO turn junk cars and couches into cash under the misnamed match grant program (misnamed b/c the volags puts up nowhere near a dollar for each dollar it extracts from the taxpayer). I sat in on a Washington conference where this practice was discussed and condoned. One Catholic Charities was flipping so many cars, the state forced it to get a used car dealearship licence.


  4. Mark, I am not a case manager and I no longer work at all in R&P. I do program development and outreach part-time. Also, I’m a full time student and work another part-time job. Blogging is my only indulgence right now.


  5. We are talking about funding for refugees. TANF and food stamps, etc, may be accessed by refugees after the first 8 months, but we’re talking about refugee resettlement. Refugee Cash Assistance (RCA) is available to all refugees for up to eight months as is Refugee Medical Assistance (RMA). See the ORR site at Mars don’t you know about RCA and RMA? Apparently you are the uninformed one. Is that why you no longer work at a volag?

    Transitionland – it’s not just the CEO’s who take home profits. Where I live the resettlement agency used to have 10 vice-presidents! I’m sorry that case managers are poorly paid. That’s an issue for you to take up with your management. You are free to move on to a better paying job. Don’t complain to us. Would you give up benefits if you did? Certainly you don’t have any consequences for poor performance now. It’s not like customers will vote with their feet. And your government oversight agencies are working in cooperation with you. Certainly the recession won’t put you out of work. Sounds like a good job to me. For not having any time to get out and find $10 tables for refugees you certainly seem to have a lot of time to blog.


  6. What Mars said. Also, what was meant by “unfurnished” was that the agency needed to provde furnishing, not that refugees move in with no beds, tables, lamps, etc. Obviously.

    Mark, really, where do you thinking this supposed couch-fruad money is going? Have you seen the people who normally work and volunteer at resettlement offices? They’re mostly recent college grads, and they often live in the same neighborhoods, even the same buildings as their clients. That’s not unusual. Resettlement is not a well-paying field unless you are an executive director or CEO.


  7. mark, you are ill-informed. i am so tired of hearing the ” 8 month” thing. that is only for SINGLE adult refugees. Families with children under 18 qualify for additional benefits under tanf (Transitional Aid for Needy Families, the old AFDC, WELFARE), for however long state regs allow (in my state there is a two year cap, but it’s easily waivable). I got my first sofa off the street. it lasted a few years. volags do NOT make money off this stuff! I am all for reform of the US refugee program, but please try to know what you are talking about and don’t just go on your assumptions (which are incorrect). Educate yourself and you can become a much better advocate.


  8. The $850 is just for the first 30 days. That is how much they get per refugee. The volag can take half for overhead. The half must be spent “in kind” on behalf of the refugee. So if the volag gets a junk couch they can value it as a $75 couch and apply that to what they supposedly gave the refugee. So in fact the volag can keep more than half the $850. Of course the individual who donated it can write it off on their income taxes. If the refugee is in the Match Grant program the volag can also receive extra matching money from the government.

    The refugees also get up to 8 months of cash assistance and Medicaid. The volags can also get all sorts of other ORR grants for translation services, employment services, etc. The volags only tell the journalists about the $850 per refugee they get for the first month to make it seem they are starved of funding.


  9. Thanks Mark for the comment. After all this time writing RRW I still don’t know how they figure what benefits each refugee is entitled to. It almost seems that what they receive varies from city to city, even neighborhood to neighborhood depending on which agency resettled them. It is just one more reason that this program needs to be reformed and completely restructured with more accountability for both refugees and for the citizens affected by the arrival of large numbers of refugees.

    I’m wandering off track, but this inability (or unwillingness) of a volag to spell out exactly what forms of welfare refugees were getting is one reason public anger got out of hand where I live.

    And, by the way, I would like to know how much money each organization puts in of their own funds. It is supposed to be a highly touted public/private partnership. With USCRI it looks like its all(or nearly all)public money.


  10. The article says that refugees get a subsidy check for up to six months. In fact they can receive refugee cash assistance and Medicaid for up to eight months. The article also says that refugees are often put in unfurnished apartments. In fact refugee resettlement agencies must by contract furnish these apartments with basic furnishings and household items. They must add their own funding to the $850 supplied by the government for this purpose. Anything less is contractual fraud.


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