Last week, the state announced it was leaving the federal refugee resettlement program after four decades in the program. The first big change in Texas will be felt by the roughly 20 people who have state jobs dedicated toward refugee programs right now. Up until February, those positions will have all been funded by the federal government.
According to Carrie Williams, a spokesperson for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, the agency will be working to “reassign or offer other positions to those employees” in the next 120 days.
As for what will happen to the services and work those employees provided, that will now fall to nonprofits.
“It’s going to be a huge amount of work and most of us have never been through this process before,” says Aaron Rippenkroeger with Refugee Services of Texas.
Rippenkroeger explains his group and others will have to figure out how to take on those responsibilities and make sure services for refugees aren’t disrupted. That’s because when states leave the federal program, they don’t actually stop receiving refugees.
“While we of course regret Texas’ decision, [the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement] is working to appoint designees to administer services to refugees in Texas, until a later time when competitive bids will be accepted for a Wilson-Fish alternative program,” Victoria Palmer, a spokesperson for the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), said in a statement.
The agency also said they will make sure services aren’t disrupted as the state switches to an alternative program.
Rippenkroeger says the good news in all of this is that other states like Kansas and New Jersey have recently gone through this same process.
“So, there is expertise out there, and we want to be connecting with that, while also ensuring that the people working in Texas have an important contribution to make as we work on this,” he says.
Another big change is that the state will no longer be receiving more than $100 million from the federal government to run the program.
Rippenkroeger says that money would not have just been dispersed to groups like his – it would have also gone to school districts and health facilities around the state that serve these populations. He says this will be an adjustment for those entities too.