The Federal Budget for Refugee Assistance

Anyone paying attention to the news has heard about the international refugee crisis but few people have probably heard of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the federal agency that oversees the services provided to refugees arriving in the United States. The first refugee legislation was enacted following World War II but the Office was established in 1980 as a program within the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration of Children and Families.

Spending related to refugees has been a line item since at least 1963, and represents a small but growing part of the budget. Since 2007, outlays have increased from $509 million to $1.2 billion in 2015.

In 2015, most of the money in the program was authorized to assist unaccompanied child (UC) refugees. From 2011 to 2015, spending on UC has risen from $149 million to $948 million. Costs include shelter, legal services, medical care, background checks, and family reunification services, such as home studies and follow-up services, as well as administrative expenses. According to the Budget Justification

From FY 2005 through FY 2011, the UC program served between 7,000 and 8,000 children annually, with an average length of stay in the program of 75 days. In FY 2012, however, the number of children entering the program began to increase, and by the end of the fiscal year, ORR had served approximately 14,000 UC. In FY 2013, the number of UC served was almost 25,000, and in FY 2014, the program served nearly 58,000 UC.

The second largest cost to the Office was for Transitional and Medical Services, authorized at $383 million, which provides grants to states and non-profits “to take responsibility for resettling refugees”. The smallest part of its budget includes the $3 million Victims of Domestic Trafficking, but this program is also growing. In 2003, the program handled 151 cases, in 2014 the number climbed to 749.

Looking ahead, the Administration’s budget forecasts continued increased demand for refugee assistance, reflecting ongoing instability in certain regions of the world. Outlays are expected to jump by over a third to $1.6 billion in 2016 and hover around $1.7 billion for the following four years.