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World Relief to lay off 140 staff, close five locations, citing Trump refugee order

UPDATED: Wed., Feb. 15, 2017

A standing-room-only crowd attends the Rally With Refugees, a program put on by World Relief and other groups concerned with refugee issues Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017, at Gonzaga University in Spokane. World Relief announced Wednesday it will close five offices throughout the nation, including its Boise location. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
A standing-room-only crowd attends the Rally With Refugees, a program put on by World Relief and other groups concerned with refugee issues Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017, at Gonzaga University in Spokane. World Relief announced Wednesday it will close five offices throughout the nation, including its Boise location. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
By Sarah Pulliam Bailey Washington Post

One of the nine organizations that works with the United Nation’s refugee program announced Wednesday it will lay off about 140 staff and close five offices that have resettled more than 25,000 refugees.

In a statement, evangelical relief and development agency World Relief called the decision “a direct result of the recent decision by the Trump Administration,” citing President Donald Trump’s executive order that reduced the number of refugees the United States will admit.

Other resettlement agencies have launched multimillion-dollar fundraisers to cover the unexpected losses they anticipate from the number of refugees admitted.

“It will impact all nine resettlement agencies, so the infrastructure for refugee resettlement in our country – built over decades, at least since the Refugee Act of 1980 – could be decimated,” said Matthew Soerens of World Relief.

The U.S. Refugee Resettlement program combines partial funding from the federal government to cover the costs of resettling new refugees with money raised by nonprofit agencies. Most of the agencies are religious, including World Relief and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which raise funding from donors and churches and organize volunteers.

For instance, the Episcopal Migration Ministries was expecting $14.2 million from the U.S. State Department and $6.2 million from the Department of Health and Human Services, according to spokesperson Kendall Martin, and they are working to raise private support. On Feb. 8, Martin said, the Episcopal Church’s executive council gave the agency $500,000 to provide a financial bridge during Trump’s ban.

In 2015, World Relief received about $42 million in government grants, which made up nearly three-quarters of the ministry’s total revenue of $62 million, according to the ministry’s latest available IRS filings. It will shutter offices in Boise; Columbus, Ohio; Miami; Nashville, Tennessee; and Glen Burnie, Maryland.

Soerens said most federal funding comes in a one-time, per-refugee grant, most of which gets used for direct expenses for newly arrived refugees during their first 90 days in the country, including covering rent costs for the family’s apartment and a caseworker. Trump’s temporary halt on all refugee resettlement means the agencies have to find nongovernmental funding to cover the budget that they expected to be covered by refugee resettlement grants.

Even though Trump’s order has faced legal challenges, the courts have not addressed the section that reduces the cap on refugee admissions from 110,000 to 50,000.

“I hereby proclaim that the entry of more than 50,000 refugees in fiscal year 2017 would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, and thus suspend any such entry until such time as I determine that additional admissions would be in the national interest,” Trump said in his Jan. 27 executive order.

The United States has already resettled 34,000 this year, according to Soerens, so fewer than 16,000 additional refugees will be allowed through Sept. 30.

World Relief receives about 10 percent of the total cases, Soerens said, so the ministry anticipates it will receive somewhere around 1,600 refugees to arrive in the next 7 1/2 months, distributed through its offices throughout the country. In the past six months, the agency resettled more than 6,000 refugees.

World Relief President Scott Arbeiter said in a statement that the layoffs will impact many staff memberswho brought specific expertise to helping refugees. For instance, many of their employees speak languages not widely spoken. “This represents a loss of more than 140 jobs – which by itself is deeply troubling – but also decades of organizational expertise and invaluable capacity to serve the world’s most vulnerable people,” World Relief CEO Tim Breene said.

A spokesperson from the State Department Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration could not be immediately reached on Wednesday.

Last week, World Relief coordinated an effort by 100 evangelical pastors and leaders to buy an advertisement in the Washington Post that denounced Trump’s executive order. That ad included several evangelicals who don’t usually get involved in politics, including New York City pastor Tim Keller and his wife, Kathy Keller, and popular author Ann Voskamp.

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