Helping refugees understand U.S. finances

Helping refugees understand U.S. finances

June 28, 2009
Written by Gregg Brekke

Is your church thinking of helping a refugee family resettle in the United States?

If so, good for you. With an estimated 70,000 refugees anticipated here this year, resettlement agencies are desperate for churches willing to co-sponsor a family. Right now, most refugees are arriving from Iraq, Myanmar, and Nepal (Bhutanese.)

As part of River City Saturday, Alan Headbloom and Dave Treul of Plymouth Congregational UCC in Grand Rapids spoke at a workshop, "Baghdad to Grand Rapids: Welcoming Iraqi Refugees." With them was Thoraya Bashi, the wife and mother in an Iraqi family of five sponsored by their church.

Among the topics discussed were these 10 financial tips of refugee resettlement:

1. The U.S. financial system is sophisticated with traps and challenges. Much help will be needed.
2. Money is a very personal topic: go slow, don’t judge, but build trust.
3. Money management skills: family may already have these, but also may not; provide instruction but let them make decisions.
4. Employment expectations/initial rental decision: What was the family’s original income before they became refugees? Help them match their first housing to realistic income expectations.
5. Banking services and bill paying: explain what’s available, advise them, but don’t decide for them.
6. Sorting through the mail: Help them learn what’s important, what’s “junk mail,” and how we know the difference.
7. What about a car? Would it be better to locate on a bus route and learn the routine?
8. Financial self-sufficiency is the goal. Work to promote independence.
9. Assumptions about English. Don’t assume that they know English. If they can speak English, don’t assume that this means they can write and read it, including legal notices, want ads, welfare forms, traffic signs, etc.
10. Your church’s financial commitment: What is it? For how long? What is your realistic ability to fund emergency gaps?

For more information about sponsoring a refugee family, contact Mary Kuenning Gross at the Global Ministries booth in the Exhibit Hall or phone: 216/736-3212; email:

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