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Regional News

Overwhelmed resettlement agencies still waiting for $12 million from state for Afghan evacuees

Leaders from Catholic Charities Agency and the Islamic Society of Western Massachusetts meeting in November 2021 to discuss how they can work together to serve the incoming Afghan evacuees. From left, Urszula Wolanska-Fettes, Keegan Pyle, Kathryn Buckley-Brawner, Ibrahim Nuru, Sunny Hussain, Shaukat Matin and Khadija Hussain.
Nirvani Williams
/
New England Public Media
Leaders from Catholic Charities Agency and the Islamic Society of Western Massachusetts meeting in November 2021 to discuss how they can work together to serve the incoming Afghan evacuees. From left, Urszula Wolanska-Fettes, Keegan Pyle, Kathryn Buckley-Brawner, Ibrahim Nuru, Sunny Hussain, Shaukat Matin and Khadija Hussain.

Governor Charlie Baker recently signed off on $12 million in aid for evacuees from Afghanistan resettling in Massachusetts.

The money has not been released yet, but resettlement agencies have reached out to the Baker administration to try to expedite the process.

"We and the other agencies are most anxious to get the funding as we have already resettled hundreds of Afghans and the money will be used both for direct assistance for them, as well as to help with the hiring of much needed staff to help us support them," said Jeffrey Kinney from Ascentria Care Alliance, a resettlement agency with offices in Worcester and West Springfield.

The governor's office said the administration "is in the process of planning to distribute these funds."

Three quarters of the funding is going to evacuees, with the rest to the resettlement agencies.

Kathryn Buckley Brawner, executive director for Catholic Charities, said national agencies have also tried to step up and provide more funding, but with her organization taking in more evacuees at a faster rate, her staff feels “pretty overwhelmed.”

Catholic Charities has just two case workers to address the needs of over 60 evacuees and one program manager to organize resources. But instead of spending the expected state funds on more staff, Buckley-Brawner has other plans.

“We advocated for these funds to be used for legal advice and legal assistance in the upcoming asylum cases that all of the evacuees will have to apply for,” Buckley-Brawner said.

According to Ascentria, Massachusetts organizations expect more than 1,700 evacuees to resettle in the state by mid-February.

Buckley-Brawner said she hopes to place as many evacuees as they possibly can, but the agency is almost at their cap, of 80.

Catholic Charities is starting to move some smaller Afghan families into their own apartments in Franklin and Hampshire counties, although locating affordable housing remains a major issue.

Buckley-Brawner said she is finding it difficult to plan next steps for the new year.

"In our faith," she said, "one of the expressions is if you want to see God laugh, tell him you've got a plan."