A six-month D.C. government program to help Cuban refugees get jobs and public assistance ends June 30, with almost all the refugees still without work. Although new funds have recently been obtained, it was unclear last night how soon the program can be resumed.
Department of Human Services Director James Buford said the present program is run under contract with a private agency and that as soon as a new proposal for a similar program is received an effort will be made to continue the present services without interrruption if possible.
However, Gregory B. Baker, DHS's acting coordinator for refugee resettlement, advanced the view that it would take months for a new program to be instituted.
He said the new $50,000 federal grant for the Cuban program came too late to permit easy extension of the current program.
Meanwhile, Mercedes Ponce, who is directing the present program, which so far has cost the city just under $10,000, expressed concern over the possibility that it might lapse.
"I'm worried that some may have to turn to crime just to live," she said of the refugees involved. There are 365 Cuban refugees in the city, of whom 74 are in her program. She said about half of them are homeless.
The program Ponce directs is designed to help the Cubans in finding jobs and medical, legal and public assistance. It is also aimed at helping the refugees find programs for learning English and at offering counseling and translation services.
She said about 15 Cubans have found permanent jobs through the program.
Most of them are as dishwashers and custodians. The program has found jobs for others but they have either quit or been fired.
The 74 Cubans in the city program are among the most difficult to integrate into American society, program officials say. All are male, none has relatives here and few have much education or many job skills. Moreover, many were forcibly expelled from Cuba during the 1980 exodus, officials said.
Some are said to be unhappy because they did not wish to be here in the first place.
"It's been very frustrating and very difficult to get all the benefits they should have," Ponce said. She said many potential employers view the Cubans with distrust and some refuse even to consider hiring Cuban refegees.
She also expressed disappointment with the attitude of city workers assigned to help the Cubans obtain aid that they need or to which they may be entitled. t
Baker said he believed that Congress has been less generous in allocating funds for Cuban refrgees than for those from Indochina. The Cubans "are definitely getting the short end of the stick," he said.
However, Baker said he did not believe there was discrimination against Cubans in the city government.
"I think the facts are: we've got a bunch of people [in the city government] who don't see the Cubans as anything but recipients of sevices . . . The urgency for the refugee is no different from any other Joe Blow who walks in off the street," he said.
Ponce said one Cuban male has told her he "has become a [homosexual] prostitute because he has no money" and that "more than half" the refugees are sleeping in parked cars or in the apartments of friends.
Buford, head of DHS, said the city is trying to identify a community-based social service agency that can develop a program to provide the needed services under the new grant.
"As soon as we can get a proposal, then the money will be made available," he said. Buford also said that it was his understanding that the agency providing services under the present program is preparing a proposal for the new grant.