The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants published a compelling op-ed today that explains how newly arriving Ukrainians seeking safety in the United States find themselves at risk of homelessness, hunger, trafficking, and serious health risks due to being cut off from critical assistance and services. Previously, USCRI issued a Policy Brief highlighting some of the financial and safety challenges for newly arriving Ukrainians who are not eligible for federal mainstream benefits, Medicaid coverage, or ORR funded resettlement assistance.

Many of those seeking refuge in the U.S. are women with young children, elderly grandparents, and individuals with disabilities or other serious health conditions. Unlike earlier families that entered on humanitarian parole through the Uniting for Ukraine program and were able to access some basic assistance for health and resettlement needs, Ukrainians arriving after September 30, 2023 have no such safety net. Newspaper Novaya Gazeta reports that many Ukrainians lucky enough to find stable jobs “are barely making ends meet” and sometimes find themselves with enormous medical bills. Others live with pain or dangerous illnesses because they cannot afford to seek medical attention.

With no renewed funding from Congress, resettlement staff across the country have been forced to turn Ukrainians away. This is a major blow — both materially and psychologically — for families have lost their homes, loved ones, livelihoods, and any sense of normalcy. Children in particular have seen their lives disrupted by the war and often need not only educational assistance but trauma counseling. Adults need English classes, employment assistance, and mental health counseling.

Ukrainians fleeing the war are called “refugees” but are not technically refugees in the legal sense. Rather, most Ukrainians who arrived as of February 2022 were granted humanitarian parole, which allows them to enter the United States for a temporary period of time and obtain employment authorization.

In May 2022, Congress voted to allow Ukrainians arriving on humanitarian parole to be eligible for certain resettlement services and assistance programs offered by resettlement agencies and nonprofits that are normally reserved for individuals entering through the U.S. Refugee Admission Program (USRAP). This bipartisan bill helped propel the success of the administration’s Uniting for Ukraine program, which has welcomed over 120,000 Ukrainian parolees through private sponsors since it was launched in April 2022. Ukrainians paroled prior to this program between February and April 2022 were also granted eligibility for these temporary benefits.

However, this legislation only allowed Ukrainians who entered on or before September 20, 2023 to access these benefits and resettlement services. Since Congress has failed to renew this language in any continuing resolutions it has passed short-term to keep the government from shutting down, the over 80,000 Ukrainians expected to arrive in the United States in the fiscal year beginning October 1, 2023 have little to no access to services they desperately need.

The lack of congressional action to renew this funding has also affected the tens of thousands of U.S.-based sponsors who signed up to welcome Ukrainians in communities across the country. Many of these sponsors are themselves recent immigrants or retirees with fixed incomes who cannot bear the cost of the services they anticipated would be partially allayed by resettlement agencies. Meanwhile, sponsors who are employed are doing their best to support the families they have pledged to assist as they are squeezed with expenses for their own households.

USCRI writes in today’s article:

“It’s heartbreaking to talk to these families, hear their stories, and tell them we can’t help because they didn’t arrive in time,” [resettlement case worker Iryna] Tkachenko said.

“If you’re Ukrainian and arrived with parole by Sept. 30, resettlement agencies can serve you with a wide array of services — but if you arrived Oct. 1 or later, in most cases they can’t,” said Daniel Salazar, a policy analyst with the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. “This arbitrary cut-off has put thousands of Ukrainians who have lost their homes — many of them women, children, or the elderly — in the lurch.”

Read the full published op-ed here:

To learn more about this issue, read the USCRI Policy & Advocacy Report from October 2023.  

Photo from Novaya Gazeta article with photo credit EPA-EFE / JIM LO SCALZO.