© 2024 New England Public Media

FCC public inspection files:
WGBYWFCRWNNZWNNUWNNZ-FMWNNI

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact hello@nepm.org or call 413-781-2801.
PBS, NPR and local perspective for western Mass.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

New Americans in Vermont could access education grants sooner under new legislation

The Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program office in Colchester.
Meg Malone
/
VPR
In 2023, Vermont resettled around 500 refugees through resettlement agencies like the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, based in Colchester.

The Vermont Senate gave preliminary approval Tuesday to legislation that would expand educational opportunities for refugees and other New Americans.

Last year alone, Vermont welcomed about 500 refugees to the Green Mountain State. Sen. Nader Hashim, a Democrat from Windham County, said he spends a lot of time talking to the Afghans who began resettling in Brattleboro in 2022.

He said many of them are already filling much-needed roles in the local workforce.

“I’ve met and heard from New Americans who are working here in lumberyards, fuel delivery businesses, the service industry and a number of other areas,” Hashim said Tuesday.

Current law requires New Americans — a term that refers to recent arrivals in Vermont or other states — to reside in Vermont for at least a year before they become eligible for educational grants from the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation. And Hashim said the mandate is delaying access to English and drivers ed classes, as well as non-degree courses that would help people get licensed for jobs as truck drivers, dental assistants, or roles in other high-demand fields.

More from Vermont Edition: Who's a 'New American'? Unpacking the phrase and its use in Vermont

“There are many factors that go into making immigration successful, and one of those factors is making sure that folks from different parts of the world feel welcome and safe in our communities,” Hashim said. “I believe this bill will continue to help New Americans who want to start their new life in Vermont by allowing them more efficient opportunities to become members of communities and our workforce while filling much-needed roles.”

Mary Kay Sigda, who works at the New Vermonter Education Program at the School for International Living in Brattleboro, told lawmakers earlier this year that she works directly with 55 refugee students.

“I observe the passion and yearning that these New Vermonters bring to the classroom in pursuit of additional English language and learning skills that they can use to further their own education and abilities to secure a good-paying job,” she said in written testimony to the Senate Education Committee.

She said the one-year residency requirement for non-degree educational offerings at VSAC “significantly delays their access to resources and opportunities that will help them to connect with their new community and provide for their families.”

“Adjusting these requirements to help New Vermonters pursue non-degree education and training opportunities would also have important economic benefits to the region, particularly by helping address workforce shortages,” she said.

More from Vermont Public: Vermont wants to resettle more refugees, but may not have enough housing

The measure is expected to win final support in the Senate later this week, and House lawmakers have indicated support for the measure.

Legislative analysts say the proposal won’t have a measurable impact on the state budget.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.

_

Corrected: March 13, 2024 at 9:11 AM EDT
This story previously misspelled the first name of Windham County Sen. Nader Hashim
The Vermont Statehouse is often called the people’s house. I am your eyes and ears there. I keep a close eye on how legislation could affect your life; I also regularly speak to the people who write that legislation.