MIRA calls for robust funding of key programs that support immigrants

Priorities include citizenship, English and adult basic education classes, job-seeking support, health coverage, domestic and sexual violence prevention.

BOSTON, March 31, 2017 – As federal policies become increasingly hostile to immigrants, MIRA Executive Director Eva A. Millona today submitted testimony in support of public programs that help keep communities healthy and safe, build workforce skills, and transition eligible immigrants to citizenship.

“Now more than ever,” she told the Joint Committee on Ways and Means, “we respectfully request your support in the state budget for funding of programs that promote immigrant integration, opportunity and safety, strengthening the Commonwealth’s economic, civic, and social fabric and fueling economic growth.”

In particular, MIRA is advocating for four line items in the fiscal 2018 budget, plus a policy change:

Citizenship clinic Mar2017MIRA AmeriCorps member Emily Reiniger, right, assists Viviana Zeissig, of Chelmsford, a native of Guatemala who is applying for U.S. citizenship after 22 years in the country. Her husband, Hansel, is already a citizen.

1. The Citizenship for New Americans Program (CNAP); funding request: $500,000 (increase $100,000)

CNAP helps eligible low-income immigrants apply for citizenship with English and civics classes and provides legal assistance with the 22-page citizenship application, among other services. In fiscal 2016, it served about 2,000 clients, who had an 89% success rate on the naturalization exam.

“Since the election, demand for citizenship programs has far outstripped availability,” Millona said in her testimony. “Massachusetts is home to 300,000 immigrants who are eligible for American citizenship, and demand has grown exponentially over the last year.”

MIRA’s citizenship clinic, partly funded by CNAP, currently has a two-month waiting list, she noted, and other CNAP providers report similar demand. “Federal funding for citizenship programs is also at risk, making providers more reliant than ever on state and private sources.”

2. Adult basic education and English for speakers of other languages; funding request:  $31.5 million (increase $3 million)

Millona noted that immigrants make up nearly 19% of the Massachusetts workforce and own 18% of our businesses. “Unfortunately, much of this participation is confined to low-wage service industries,” she said. Adult basic education and English classes are crucial for getting higher-skilled work, but both are in short supply, with long waitlists.

“Though funding of $31.5 million will not eliminate these waitlists, increased funding is critical to promote the integration and self-sufficiency of immigrant workers, as well as to meet the needs of a 21st-century marketplace,” Millona said.

3. Public health responses to domestic and sexual violence; funding request: $36.8 million (increase: $5.5 million)

MIRA is urging legislators to increase funding for culturally and linguistically appropriate crisis intervention and safety planning, which can save lives, as well as victim advocacy, outreach to isolated immigrant communities, training to service providers, and legal assistance.

“These services are critical,” Millona said, noting that immigrants in the Commonwealth are twice as likely to be killed in a domestic violence incident as native-born residents – at least in part because of fear that contact with the police will lead to deportation of a family member. “The aggressive expansion of federal immigration enforcement makes immigrant victims more vulnerable,” she added.

4. The Employment Support Services Program (ESSP); funding request: $1 million (no increase)

EESP help immigrants and refugees who receive cash assistance to overcome language barriers to employment, as part of a broader effort to help them get the education, occupational skills and support services needed to acquire and retain jobs.

“The relatively small investment in ESSP results in strong job placement and job retention outcomes,” Millona said, noting that in fiscal 2016, three quarters of program participants were successfully placed in jobs, and 90 percent of these still held those jobs 30 days later.

Finally, MIRA is urging the Joint Committee to include language in the fiscal 2018 budget that would restore Health Safety Net eligibility to levels in effect prior to June 2016. This is the only source of affordable medical care and treatment for many low-income immigrants who are uninsured or underinsured, but changes in 2016 lowered the income level at which deductibles are charged.

Read the full testimony from MIRA, as submitted in writing.