U.S. to Reimburse Immigrant Aid Groups

Times Staff Writer

In a sharp policy reversal, federal officials said Wednesday that they will allow community organizations to be reimbursed for the millions of dollars they have spent to provide health and education services to newly legal immigrants.

The change occurred after the organizations and some congressmen protested that, if the money were not paid, some of the groups would be forced to go out of business.

The services--including outpatient health care and tutoring in English and U.S. history--were provided to help illegal immigrants qualify for legal status under the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act and as new benefits received when legal status was obtained.

Contracts Not Signed


The government had refused to allow reimbursement for services provided between Oct. 1, 1987, and June 30, 1988, because contracts between government and the private groups were not signed until this summer. The money is provided by the federal government and distributed by the states.

State officials and officers of community groups hailed the policy shift.

“That’s great,” said Francisco L. Castillon, executive director of the California Health Federation, which represents most of the 175 community clinics that provided services to immigrants in the legalization program. “Our programs are going to benefit immediately.”

Nevertheless, the dispute over the money left some hard feelings.


Arnoldo Torres, director of public policy for the League of United Latin American Citizens, said that, because the decision to reimburse them was delayed, some community groups “have no money” and are experiencing problems recruiting employees, who “are afraid they won’t be paid.”

‘Stop These . . . Situations’

“We’ve got to stop these kinds of situations from occurring in the future,” Torres said at a news conference.

Officers of the community groups complained last week, after government officials served notice of the payment ban, that they could not sign the contracts earlier because the federal government had been slow to publish regulations for the reimbursements. The groups’ expenses amounted to more than $13 million in California alone during the disputed period.


Linda Hill, a program analyst for the federal grant program, which is administered by the Department of Health and Human Services, said that, after reviewing the policy, “we came to the conclusion that we could give states the flexibility to follow their own procedures” in making the reimbursements.

The grants, established in conjunction with the 1986 immigration reform law, provide $4 billion over a four-year period for state, local and private groups providing services to new immigrants.

California, which will receive about half of the reimbursement money, already has been granted $265 million and is scheduled to receive a similar-size allocation by the end of this month, Hill said. The state expects to reimburse private health-care organizations for $8.5 million in expenditures and to distribute an additional $4.5 million to groups providing educational services.

Texas has received $55 million, New York $25.2 million and Florida $30.1 million. Additional grants will go to those states this month.


State officials had urged that the reimbursements be allowed because the community groups had developed special rapport with immigrants, thus assisting greatly in implementing the immigration law. The officials said that, if the groups went out of operation, state-run programs would not be able to meet demand for English and government classes, which many immigrants need to qualify for the second stage of the legalization program.

In a letter to Clifford L. Allenby, secretary of the California Health and Welfare Agency, Wayne A. Stanton, administrator of the Health and Human Services Department’s Family Support Administration, conceded that federal law does not prohibit the reimbursements, but he warned that costs incurred by the private groups “will have to be fully documented and would have to be reasonable.”