Ideas for how I can help refugees near me: look to Oregon

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Oregon took bold steps to preserve the state’s refugee resettlement ecosystem when legislators approved nearly $2 million in temporary state funding. HB 2508 passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in June and Gov. Kate Brown recently signed it into law.

The bill ensures Oregon’s refugee resettlement agencies will remain viable despite dwindling federal support tied to refugee admissions numbers. Refugee admissions to the U.S. have declined significantly in recent years from 85,000 in 2016 to 30,000 this year. The admissions cap for 2020 has been set at 18,000.

Roughly a third of the nation’s 325 resettlement offices have closed their doors since 2017 due to decreased federal funding.

We Hire Refugees helped pass HB 2508, a bill spearheaded by Catholic Charities of Oregon and Lutheran Community Services Northwest, arguing that refugees make our companies, economy and communities stronger. The U.S. has a labor shortage, which refugees can help alleviate while giving back economically to the communities they live and work in. Refugees:

  • Participate in the labor force at a higher rate than the native-born population.

  • Open businesses at a rate 1.5 times higher than the native-born population. In 2015, these refugee-owned businesses generated $4.6 billion in income.

  • Pay back $21K more in taxes than they receive in benefits over their first 20 years in the U.S.

  • Achieve, within 25 years, an average household income that’s $14K more than the total average household income for the U.S.*

“Refugees are hard working, loyal colleagues,” said Sam Pardue, CEO of Indow, who helped found We Hire Refugees and advocate for HB 2508 with legislators in Salem. “Admitting refugees helps people in desperate need and also helps us maintain a robust economy. We need to be letting in more refugees, not fewer.”

Oregon’s lawmakers followed the historic U.S. trend of bipartisan support for refugee resettlement in this country.

HB 2508 passed the 60-member Oregon House with only three no votes from Republicans including Rep. Werner Reschke (R-Klamath Falls), Rep. Mike Nearman (R-Independence) and Rep. Bill Post (R-Keizer). It passed unanimously in the Senate with two absent including Sens. Fred Girod ( R-Lyons) and Dennis Linthicum (R-Klamath Falls) and another, Sen. Brian Boquist (R-Dallas), excused.

New York is the only other state that has passed comparable legislation to fund refugee resettlement. We Hire Refugees asks businesses to support similar initiatives and legislation to preserve the nation’s resettlement ecosystem which started after World War II to settle Jewish refugees. It is also asks businesses to support increasing the refugee admissions cap.

We Hire Refugees signatory and Georgia businessman Chris Chancey recently came out with the book, Refugee Workforce: The Economic Case for Hiring the Displaced. The nation currently has 7.5 million unfilled positions with 10,000 people retiring every day. The next generation is not filling the vacancies at nearly the same rate.

“The labor shortage problem is growing, but we believe the answer to it has also been growing in cities across the United States: the refugee workforce” said Chancey. “This underrated workforce, if we choose to recognize it, is the one best positioned to stimulate America’s future economic growth.”

If you’re asking, “How can I help refugees near me?” there’s an easy answer: engage businesses in supporting refugees by getting them to sign the We Hire Refugees declaration as a start.

Gov. Kate Brown signing HB 2508 to provide temporary state funding for refugee resettlement.

*Source: The New American Economy, “From Struggle to Resilience: The Economic Impact of Refugees in America” and the National Bureau of Economic Research.