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Cut in Emergency Refugee Aid Concerns Some Jewish Groups

Jewish groups are voicing concern about proposed legislation that could sharply reduce funding for a government program providing emergency relief to refugees around the world.

But they are relieved that a congressional panel has voted to maintain refugee assistance for Israel at last year’s funding level, despite a proposed cut by the Clinton administration.

During recent consideration of foreign aid legislation for the 1994 fiscal year, the House Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations voted to restore Israel’s $80 million in refugee assistance funding.

The administration had called for a cut in Israel’s refugee assistance to $55 million, but the subcommittee, in an effort led by Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), decided to continue the $80 million funding that Israel received this year.

Jewish groups were pleased by that action, but were concerned about an accompanying cut from $49 million to $19 million in Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance funds approved by the House.

ERMA is a fund used primarily to supply aid to displaced people in countries such as Somalia, Ethiopia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Refugee advocates within the Jewish community expressed concern that if the House version of the foreign aid legislation eventually passed both chambers of Congress, money to assist displaced people and refugees during an emergency would be in short supply.

Some in the pro-Israel community, however, pointed out that ERMA is a fund with permanent authorization, meaning that if there is a refugee emergency and over $19 million is needed, the supplemental money will eventually be provided.

But refugee advocates, including officials from the Council of Jewish Federations and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, argued that finding the money to replenish ERMA could take a long time, and that the $19 billion is not adequate.

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