A proposed change in welfare policies for refugees has angered state officials in the West, where many southeast Asian refugees are concentrated.
The new regulations, published today in the Federal Register, would limit reimbursement to the states for expenditures on Aid to Families with Dependent Children, Supplemental Security Income and Medicaid for refugees.
The federal government currently reimburses states for 100 percent of such expenditures for 36 months, even if the refugees don't meet the same eligibility requirements as American citizens.
The new rules would halve that time to 18 months, effective Feb. 1. The proposed regulation is subject to 30 days of public comment.
But state officials here say that the change, which U.S. officials say could save as much as $50 million this fiscal year, will cost the states plenty.
State officials in Oregon and California, two of the states with heavy refugee populations, said the cutoff would cause the abrupt termination of federal welfare assistance to 4,500 southeast Asian refugees in Oregon and 25,000 in California, with additional numbers leaving the welfare rolls each succeeding month. In Washington state, 8,600 would be dropped, according to officials there.
As of June 1, 1981, 350,200 refugees were eligible for the special federally supported welfare program throughout the United States, according to Oliver Cromwell, a spokesman for the office of refugee resettlement in the Health and Human Services Department.
Cromwell said refugees dropped from the federal program still could receive general assistance grants funded by the states, but Oregon officials said most are not eligible for any state program.
"All of the refugees that will be cut off literally do not qualify for our assistance program," said Mike Kane, assistant administrator at the Oregon Adult and Family Services division. He said about 70 percent of the Southeast Asian refugees in the state are on public assistance. Kane said volunteer agencies would be asked to boost their help but housing, in particular, would be a major problem.
California officials said those dropped from the federal rolls will go on county general welfare .
The federal government said the change was intended to "reduce the likelihood of unnecessary welfare dependency" and to "reduce the degree of special treatment afforded to refugees." Its notice in the Federal Register also noted that the change will help keep HHS within its anticipated fiscal '82 budget.
State officials say the assistance period was intended to help refugees learn English and gain other skills to become self-sufficient, and Kane said the cutback will make it more difficult for refugees to find jobs, especially since more recent arrivals have had fewer skills than earlier ones.
"At the time we needed more resources to help them, the federal government cut back on the program," Kane said. He added that Oregon, Washington and California have been "imploring the State Department and federal government to curtail the flow of refugees to western states" because of the high unemployment in the region. In addition to the three western states others with high refugee populations are Florida, Illinois, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Texas, Cromwell said.
The states have argued that refugee aid is a federal responsibility, since federal policies allow refugees in. Cromwell said 132,000 southeast Asians arrived in fiscal 1981, and the administration plans to allow 100,000 to enter in fiscal 1982.