WASHINGTON (Mar. 21)
Refugees, including Jews from the former Soviet Union, can breathe a little easier now that the U.S. government has pulled back from plans to reduce their financial and medical assistance.
Because of budget cuts, the government had planned to shorten the time during which refugees who had come to the United States were eligible for assistance. The time period for eligibility would have been reduced from eight months to five.
But after advocates for the refugee population intervened, the Health and Human Services Department decided last week to seek additional funding to continue the program on its eight-month basis.
Among the groups speaking out on the refugees’ behalf were the Council of Jewish Federations and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. Catholic and Lutheran organizations were also involved.
Mark Talisman, director of CJF’s Washington office, said he had “long conversations” with HHS Secretary Donna Shalala, whom he has known since they were teen-agers, seeking a way to fund the program.
“She worked a miracle,” Talisman said of Shalala’s efforts. He added that it would have been a “financial and moral catastrophe” had the program been cut back.
Arnold Leibowitz, Washington counsel for HIAS, estimated that the decision will affect 80,000 to 90,000 refugees.