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Washington is Working to Give $32 Million in State Funds to Help People Seeking Asylum


This year, Washington is trying to give out about $32 million in state funds to help refugee seekers. Hundreds of migrants live in tents in the Seattle area.

Twenty million dollars of the twenty-five million dollars given to the Office of Refugee and Immigrant Assistance will be given to community groups to help make a statewide network that can help migrants and asylum seekers in an organized way.

The Washington Migrant and Asylum Seeker Support Project uses a “hub and spoke model.” The office for refugees is looking at applications for one main group to be the “hub” that connects newcomers to the services they may need.

“Culturally responsive case management services,” housing, and legal help for immigration issues should be among these services, said Sarah Peterson, head of the state’s Office of Refugee and Immigrant Assistance.

Peterson said, “We’re seeing this happen all over the country, where a lot of newcomers and non-citizen migrants are coming in and needing more services.”

Another $1 million will be given to schools that help homeless kids seeking asylum. The school funding gives $250,000 to cover costs from July 1, 2023, to June 30, 2024, and $750,000 to cover costs from July 1, 2024, to June 30, 2025.

This is the first round of funding from the Office of Refugee and Immigrant Assistance. Shelton, Tukwila, and Wapato districts were chosen based on how many homeless children who did not speak English as their first language attended their schools between January 2022 and early spring 2024.

Since districts can’t ask for proof of immigration, Peterson said that using these groups was the best way to figure out how many asylum seekers might be in a district.

The Legislature passed the funds in March, but they won’t be usable until July. Also, Peterson said, it will take some more time for the agencies to distribute the money. There is also money set aside for emergency housing, but the office is still working on a plan for it and doesn’t know when it will be used.

“I believe that one of the goals of these resources was not to be an emergency response,” Peterson said. “The goal was to look at infrastructure and figure out what kind of infrastructure was needed to help these people.”

“We know there is an emergency and a need for speed, but the idea is more about building a system and a network of organizations open to everyone,” she said.

Along with that, the state gave $5 million to King County and $2.5 million to the city of Tukwila. Since early 2023, hundreds of people seeking refuge have been sleeping outside of Riverton Park United Methodist Church in Tukwila. The Department of Commerce is in charge of those funds. A spokesperson for the agency, Penny Thomas, said that the department hopes to finalize the contract terms with the county and city by next week.

The last day to apply for money from the Office of Refugee and Immigrant Assistance was Thursday. The office hopes to have contracts with groups that want to receive money by August 1.

The Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network fought for $25 million for the Office of Refugee and Immigrant Assistance. They said they liked how much work the office did to listen to community groups and people seeking refuge.

Vanessa Reyes, policy manager at the immigrant network, said that smaller organizations have to hurry to get their grant applications in. She said that she knew that officials were trying to find a balance between how much time organizations would need to prepare their applications and how urgent the need was.

Reyes said she was optimistic about the state’s plan, but partners told her that many people might not be able to take part because they lack the skills and means. There is “a lot of interest,” though, according to the Office of Refugee and Immigrant Assistance, which is trying to give technical help to the smaller groups.

In the meantime, Reyes said, people are still doing their best to help by offering the services they can still handle. “It’s been over a year since we were here.”

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