County Faces Federal Impoundment of Refugee Funds

Times County Bureau Chief

Job and family counseling for hundreds of refugees in Orange County will have to be cut back unless the Reagan Administration releases funds that Congress appropriated for refugee assistance throughout the United States.

The independent General Accounting Office released a study Thursday charging that the Administration has violated federal law by refusing to spend $11.5 million allocated by Congress for refugee aid. Last week, the White House Office of Management and Budget ordered Health and Human Services Secretary Margaret Heckler not to distribute the funds.

County officials said Friday that they are considering how to react to the impoundment, which reduces this year’s grant to Orange County to $1.4 million from the $2.1 million previously allocated.

Overall, according to the GAO, only $27.5 million of the available $39 million will be distributed throughout the United States unless OMB rescinds its directive to freeze the funds.

An OMB spokesman said the money dispute involves OMB’s belief that Congress authorized $89 million in refugee funds; OMB officials believed, however, that Congress had placed a “cap” of $77.5 million for the year, thus allowing OMB to cut $11.5 million from the program.


Beverly Hunter-Curtis, the county’s refugee assistance coordinator, said that previous money allocated to Orange County under the same federal program had been used to help 1,500 to 2,000 people and 800 families a year.

Ironically, she said, the money is used to help people reduce and eventually eliminate their need for welfare.

“We would have to cut back, and with this level of reduction of funding we would be talking about cases in the hundreds, not in the dozens,” she said.

“Of course the county is concerned, because Orange County has one of the highest concentrations of refugees, proportionally, in the country.”

Congress’ official response to the GAO report is still under consideration, but several House Democrats have reacted angrily and said they will pursue the matter.

The OMB spokesman said that his agency may have misinterpreted Congress’ intent and may allow the Department of Health and Human Services to release the disputed funds.