Philanthropy Responds to Decline in Federal Refugee Support: Is It Enough?

Monday, September 9, 2019

Changes in administration often lead to shifts in policy with real-world impact on funding for nonprofits. Under President Donald Trump, no sector has been harder hit than nonprofits that serve refugees and immigrants.

As the Trump administration reduced the number of refugees allowed in the country each yearfederal funding to provide services to refugees also plummeted. Numerous nonprofits rely upon steady government funding to drive their business models, which enable them to provide flexible services and meet the needs of vulnerable populations. In this case, as public revenue allocated to serve new refugees declined, a ripple effect occurred, reducing operational revenue for nonprofits assisting existing refugee populations living in the United States.

One community severely impacted by these cuts is Southeast Michigan. Michigan has ranked consistently in the top five over the past several years for the number of refugee placements. However, given federal policy changes, the number of refugees declined precipitously. According to Sherry Welch, writing for Crain’s Detroit, the number of refugees entering Michigan dropped 85.7 percent to 610 in fiscal year 2018, compared to 4,258 in fiscal year 2016.

A funder collaboration called the Southeast Michigan Immigrant and Refugee Funder Collaborative, currently comprising The Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, The Kresge Foundation, and Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees, has pooled $450,000 to support nonprofits facing cutbacks. In addition to funding essential programs and services, this collaborative aims to provide strategic guidance to the ecosystem of refugee and immigrant nonprofits in the area, to catalyze other support throughout the region and to address poor public perception of immigrants and refugees.