The Extra Budget For Washington State Includes $32 Million For Refugee Seekers


A small church in Tukwila took in hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers a year ago. Now, lawmakers are offering big help in the form of $32 million set aside in the extra budget passed by the Legislature this session for new immigrants coming to Washington state.

Many of the people seeking refuge in Washington State have come from Angola and other violent parts of southern Africa. Others have come from Columbia, Guatemala, and Venezuela.

In January, Tukwila Mayor Thomas McLeod talked to lawmakers about the crisis in his town at a public hearing.

“Since the spring of last year, the Riverton United Methodist Church in Tukwila has been the hub for asylum seekers coming to western Washington,” he said, adding that a few months later he declared a state of emergency because things were getting worse.

“Some people with children are sleeping outside, and the city and church don’t have the resources to keep helping the asylum seekers,” McLeod said. “This regional humanitarian crisis shouldn’t be the responsibility of just one city.”

Hundreds of families have been sleeping in tents on the church grounds or inside the church. During the day, they use the cooking and laundry rooms.

Hundreds of others have been put up in hotels and Airbnbs in the area.

Many of the people seeking asylum who come to the Seattle area have already gone through the U.S. visa system and are now waiting to be allowed to work. Those people can’t work until they get permits, or their immigration cases could be put at risk.

House Bill 2368, which was sponsored by D-SeaTac Rep. Mia Gregerson, requires the state Department of Social and Health Services to coordinate statewide efforts to help immigrants and refugees who are coming to Washington and settling down. It also gives the DSHS the power to provide services to immigrants who are not eligible for federally funded services.

It was signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday after HB 3268 passed the house.

Gregerson said, “I love living in south King County, close to the airport.” “When people move there from another country, it’s the first place they call home.”

Earlier this year, Alex Hur from One America spoke in favor of HB 2368.

Hur told lawmakers, “Unfortunately, the world is not at peace. Families are forced to leave their home countries in search of safety, whether it’s because of war, political or religious persecution, the effects of climate change, or violence in the drug trade.” “Our plan and response to help immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers need to be better coordinated and better fit together.”

Sandra RoDarte from the Latino Civic Alliance told lawmakers that her group is on the front lines and asked them to back the bill.

“Right now, we’re helping 70 Latino families from Venezuela and Colombia stay at Riverton Park Church in Tukwila. Most of them are in tents, and some of them have babies with them,” she said, adding that the Latino Civic Alliance doesn’t have the money to really help those people. “Please help us.”

The extra budget sets aside $32 million. More than $25 million will go to the state’s Office of Refugee and Immigrant Assistance. King County will get $5 million, and Tukwila will get $2.5 million.

The Center Square talked to Sarah Peterson, who is the refugee supervisor for the Office of Refugee and Immigrant Assistance. She said that her office is already planning how to use the money.

She told The Center Square in an email, “These funds will start to be used on July 1, 2024, and will be put into contracts for client services with local community partners.”

“We are going to hold a series of listening sessions to find out what the affected community, community-based organizations, and local governments that have been helping and serving this community have to say.” The department will hold a competitive application process to make sure that all possible groups that can provide services that are sensitive to different cultures and languages are invited.

Peterson went on to say, “Our goal is to be good stewards of these funds and put them into services that newcomers need very much.”

She said that school districts like Tukwila that have seen a big rise in homeless kids looking for asylum will get $1 million.

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