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How Do States Assist Refugees with TANF and Refugee Cash Assistance? Survey of State Refugee Coordinators Provides Insight

Bethany Boland, Abt Global; Angela Gaffney, MEF Associates


October 12, 2017
States exercise broad flexibility to structure and implement federally funded refugee cash assistance programs and accompanying services to help move refugees toward employment and self-sufficiency. Each state – except Wyoming, which has no refugee program – has a State Refugee Coordinator (SRC) who is responsible for overseeing the design, implementation, and coordination of refugee services.

This brief summarizes findings from a 2016 survey of SRCs. It describes the structure of programs that deliver cash assistance and employment services to refugees, the challenges refugees experience during the resettlement process, and innovative strategies states have implemented to improve service provision and coordination among refugee service providers. The survey findings were used to identify noteworthy program structures and practices to further explore as part of fieldwork conducted under this study.

The findings include:
  • The majority of SRCs, whose offices coordinate services for refugees across multiple agencies in each state, report formal relationships with resettlement agencies and state Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) agencies to deliver core refugee services.
  • Resettlement agencies are more likely to conduct Refugee Cash Assistance (RCA) program eligibility determination and enrollment on-site than TANF eligibility determination and enrollment.
  • Both TANF- and RCA-receiving refugees can access employment and associated services, including job readiness workshops, transportation assistance, and English as a Second Language classes.
  • Newly arrived refugees experience several common challenges regardless of their source of cash assistance, including a lack of affordable housing and culturally appropriate mental health services.
The online survey was administered between January and February 2016 to State Refugee Coordinators in 49 of the 50 states plus the District of Columbia and California’s San Diego County, which operates a Wilson-Fish program separate from the rest of the state. Of the 51 SRCs only SRCs in Alabama and Texas did not respond.

The survey was conducted as part of the Understanding the Intersection between TANF and Refugee Cash Assistance Services study, sponsored by the Administration for Children and Families within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

Read more about the study.
North America