Clark County could receive millions in support for refugees from Ukraine and Afghanistan if its application for a new state grant opportunity proves successful.
During its Oct. 3 meeting, the Clark County Council voted to allow county staff to submit a grant application to the Washington State Department of Commerce for funding to stabilize new refugees coming into the county. Information to council specifically mentions refugees from Ukraine and Afghanistan, two areas experiencing significant crises in the past few years.
The opportunity popped up within a month of the council considering it, Michael Torres, community housing and development manager for the county, said. The availability of the grant was announced Sept. 6, and the requirements were laid out Sept. 20.
The due date to submit the grant was Oct. 6, Torres said. The county had a short time to act.
Statewide, the funds available for the grant are $4 million annually, Torres said. The county is asking for up to $2 million of that.
Assistance includes funding for housing, transportation, health care, food, clothing, legal services and employment-seeking support among other aspects, a staff report to the council stated.
At the meeting, Torres said the grant would be ready for review that afternoon and ready for submission by the Friday due date.
The bulk of the funds will be heading to Lutheran Community Services Northwest, Torres said. Washington State Department of Social and Health Services has designated Lutheran Community Services as the local refugee resettlement agency.
Though they aren’t required to use the agency to administer the grant, given the quick turnaround for this opportunity, Torres didn’t believe the county could do it on its own. The county will require that the agency partner with other local, culturally-specific grassroots efforts to help in administering the aid, he said.
The county doesn’t have much expertise in refugee resettlement, Torres said. Traditionally, funding for those programs go through the Department of Social and Health Services, and counties haven’t been directly involved in resettlement work.
Clark County Council Chair Karen Bowerman remarked on the substantial amount of money the county staff was requesting, though she felt it appropriate given the influx of refugees the county has seen.
Over the past year and a half, Torres said both county staff and elected leadership have received outreach outlining the need for more refugee support.
“Clark County has one of the highest rates of Afghan and Ukrainian refugee arrivals in the state of Washington,” Torres said.
Councilor Sue Marshall thanked Torres for being “nimble” in applying for the grant given its short time frame. Given the sizable Ukrainian population in Clark County, she reasoned it is a location where refugees from the country would opt to resettle.
Councilor Gary Medvigy noted the funding was specifically for refugees of conflict and not something to do with other forms of immigration that have been a hot topic in politics.
“This isn’t about a border. This isn’t about illegal immigrants,” Medvigy said.
According to the Department of Commerce’s request for applicants, the grant award announcement for those who applied is set for Oct. 31.