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Continued Aid for Refugees OKd by House

Times Staff Writer

The House Thursday approved a bill extending the federal refugee assistance program and overwhelmingly rejected a Reagan Administration-backed plan to eliminate $50 million in so-called targeted assistance to states, such as California, that have large refugee populations.

The voice vote was taken hours after the Senate Judiciary Committee approved its version of the bill, which would eliminate the targeted assistance as the White House requested. If the bill is approved by the full Senate, the issue will remain to be worked out by a House-Senate conference committee.

Los Angeles County, which in the past few years has received more than one-eighth of all the targeted funds available nationwide, has made preserving the targeted assistance program one of its top legislative priorities.

Refugees Escape Welfare

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Noting that the law requires the funding be used primarily for job training and placement, county lobbyist Melissa Scanlon said it was credited in the past year with taking about 1,100 refugees off county welfare rolls.

Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), sponsor of the proposal to eliminate the targeted funds, argued that the money is no longer needed because the flow of Indochinese and Cuban refugees has slackened.

“Now that the tidal wave has ceased, so must the response,” he declared. At a time of soaring deficits, he added, “this is a low-priority program. Its need has come and gone.”

However, California Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Studio City) insisted that local governments should not have to pay for a refugee policy that is “a federal program. It is a function of our foreign policy.”

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Lower Funding Level OKd

Sensenbrenner’s proposal was defeated 307 to 104, but the House subsequently approved holding the authorized fiscal 1986 funding for refugee health screening and social services at this year’s level. The proposal, which passed 278 to 112, was significantly lower than the funding levels that had been recommended by the House Judiciary Committee.

Rep. Romano L. Mazzoli (D-Ky.), chairman of the subcommittee that had suggested the higher levels, argued that the present amount of funding has been inadequate. Continuing at this level--the plan approved by the House--would be “unredeemably ungenerous and lacking in the magnanimity” that underlies the principle of accepting refugees to this country, Mazzoli said.

California Rep. Daniel E. Lungren (R-Long Beach), the immigration subcommittee’s ranking Republican, agreed: “We looked at the program. It does not work. It is failing. We need to do more.”

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He contended that programs such as screening refugees for contagious diseases and giving them English-language training cost less in the long run than would be saved by the funding level approved by the House.


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