September 11, 2018. The Trump administration’s decision to decrease the number of refugees admitted and in general slow down the refugee resettlement process means that only a trickle of refugees are coming into the United States. As FPI noted in our recent reporton refugee employment, the United States is on track to resettle just 20,000 refugees in 2018, down from 97,000 in 2016.
This is a tragedy for refugees, who languish in resettlement camps or live in horrific danger. For the United States, it is also a strain on communities around the country, nowhere more so than in upstate New York.
Why? Refugee resettlement agencies are anchor institutions in these areas. They provide services for some of the most vulnerable community members, jobs for local residents, and a productive use for buildings that in some cases might otherwise be vacant. But, funding for refugee resettlement is driven mostly by the number of refugees placed, and as those numbers dwindle so does this important source of federal funding to anchor institutions in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Albany, Utica, and others across upstate New York that are experiencing negative funding impacts or even shutting down.
Anchor institutions are important because they are deeply rooted in the community and boost economic development. This is the lesson of a fascinating recent podcast interviewby the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which focuses on anchor institutions in general, but could just as well be about the role of refugee resettlement agencies in particular. Anchor instructions are a key asset to community and economic revitalization and growth: they can be schools, hospitals, universities or, yes, refugee resettlement agencies.
The podcast notes that anchor institutions provide services that help families, contribute to the local economy, employ residents and promote economic development. Resettlement agencies do exactly that. They help refugees with housing, employment, English language courses, and medical and mental health assistance; they generate local economic activity as refugees and the agencies themselves buy food, clothing, home furnishings, and other goods and services from local stores; and they employ local residents as case workers, teachers, building maintenance workers, construction workers, and more.
Refugees may then extend the economic impact. This is particularly important in areas that wrestle with population decline: refugees may put to use housing that would otherwise be empty, help keep open schools that may otherwise be on the verge of closing, and begin to bring vitality to downtown areas as they open restaurants, grocery stores, and other “main street” businesses.
Refugee placement data at the metro-area level compiled by FPIreveals that many areas in the rustbelt that have been experiencing population decline have seen relatively large numbers of refugee replacements in the past ten years. For example, in the past decade Detroit has had 18,000 placements and 13,000 in Buffalo, NY. Refugees have helped reverse population decline, revitalize communities, add to the local workforce, start businesses that create jobs and contribute to the local economy through taxes.
Derek Douglas, Vice President for Civic Engagement and External Affairs at the University of Chicago, commented in the podcast that with the right strategies there is even more that anchor institutions could do to boost the local economy. As he put it:
“I think that the potential for anchor institutions to play a role in upping the strength in our communities and the strength in our families — it’s off the charts…but we haven’t even really scratched the surface of what anchors can do. And I think that it’s incumbent on everybody; not just the anchors, but the cities, the philanthropy and foundations, the corporate sector, the nonprofit sector to be looking to make sure their anchors are at the table in developing these kinds of solutions,” Douglas said of anchor institutions.
A key feature of anchor institutions is that they are rooted in the community and are not going anywhere. That is how refugee resettlement agencies have been viewed for many decades. However, as federal immigration policies are upended by President Trump, these agencies are facing threats of decreased funding and possible closures.
In New York, lawmakers recognized this threat, and the 2017 state budget included for the first time $2 million to help refugee resettlement agencies weather a difficult period, a policy recommendation the Fiscal Policy Institute was pleased to help shape. This funding was renewed in the 2018 state budget, which also added $1.75 million to support the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees to establish a “One World Welcome and Opportunity Center” to serve as a one-stop-shop with other organizations, and to expand their services to include vocational and workforce training for all counties in the Utica region. These are important steps in the right direction, and the state should look for more ways to support these important anchor institutions through an extremely challenging political climate.
Click hereto listen to the Annie E. Casey Foundation podcast interview with Derek Douglas about why anchor institutions matter.
By: Cyierra Roldan and David Dyssegaard Kallick