Diep Dinh, a 26-year-old Vietnamese refugee, found life in America to be not quite what she had dreamed. Before she left her homeland two years ago, she said, "We (felt) we will have freedom, and will find a job easily, but it is just the opposite." Even though Dinh, who lives in Silver Spring, hasn't been able to find a job, she was able to learn English and some vocational skills through Montgomery County's federally funded Refugee Services Program.
The prospects for more recent arrivals from Indochina are gloomier. Many refugees in Montgomery and Prince George's counties are finding their dreams deferred as the Reagan administration's budget ax cuts deeper and deeper into assistance programs.
While many refugees are cared for by relatives, church groups and humanitarian agencies, others have relied partly or totally on county refugee programs, which are funded by the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement, and other assistance such as the employment and training provided by CETA -- the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act.
The fiscal 1982 budgets for both CETA and the refugee assistance programs will not be known for several weeks. County officials agree, however, that the funding prospects are bleak as both programs are known to be targeted by federal budget-cutters.
"The whole situation (the prospect of even further cuts in the CETA budget) . . . is disheartening," said Linda Given, senior planner at the Montgomery CETA office.
Social service workers variously estimate the Indochinese population in the two counties at between 5,000 and 7,000. About 75 percent of them live in Montgomery County, mostly in the Silver Spring area. Marcia Zvara, chief of the Montgomery County Family Services Division, under which the refugee program falls, estimates the program is currently serving 3,500 refugees.
But the Indochinese population in Prince George's is steadily increasing as refugees are led there by, among other things, the shortage of low- and moderate-income housing in Montgomery County. The more recently arrived refugees also tend not to speak English and to have fewer employable skills than earlier arrivals. Helene Gardel, supervisor of the Refugee Assistance Program in Prince George's, said nearly all of the 400 refugees aided by the program rely heavily on welfare and other forms of public assistance.
County refugee workers say all programs not closely geared to employment will be the first victims of budget cutting. They will try to protect the job training and placement programs and English language instruction while the "supportive services," such as family counseling, translations and day care are scaled down or ended completely, said Zvara.
Gardel expects that funding reductions will force the Prince George's refugee assistance program to function "solely (as) an employment agency rather than also (as) a social service agency" next year.
The public services employment program of CETA, under which 37 Indochinese refugees worked either for Montgomery County or in nonprofit organizations, was permanently terminated June 30. Although other groups also participated in that program, the loss was especially severe for the Indochinese refugees, said Tuyet Tran, an employment specialist at the Montgomery CETA office. "The public service jobs helped them gain experience and know the job system here."
As of July, 105 Asians, almost all Indochinese refugees, were enrolled in Montgomery's CETA job training. County officials said they fear the training program -- in which the refugees learn clerical and electronics skills -- will meet an early death, like the employment program. If that happens, it will take much longer for refugees to establish themselves here, and many will have to fall back on welfare, said Allan Kutz, chief of the the Montgomery County CETA office.
"CETA tries to take the economically disadvantaged out of that category and make them independent, off government subsidy," he said. "In the long run it would be cheaper for the government to maintain CETA than to maintain (these people) on welfare."
Church groups and other private refugee assistance agencies report an increased demand for their services as refugees are seeing the public programs shrink. But voluntary agencies, which in any case usually do not provide vocational training, are facing problems of their own now, social workers say.
"A few years ago, there were many church groups very willing to help," said Gardel. "But that has decreased now that people are worrying about their own jobs. The Reagan people are expecting volunteers to come out of somewhere, but I don't know where they are going to come from."
For many refugees, then, the doors are closed at every turn. "Many of the voluntary agencies refer them to us," said Gardel. "But we cannot deal with everybody and so we have to send them back to the agencies or else refer them elsewhere. . . . It's something of a vicious circle."