Despite the lifting of Title 42, there is another barrier affecting migrants seeking refuge and asylum in the United States, namely, the February 2023 Asylum Ban (see the IRC’s Public Comment opposing the ban). While some Cubans and Haitians may have a path for protection in the form of parole status, in this new environment, they still face severe limitations and potential deportation because of the new ban. 

Between March 10th and March 20th, 2023, IRC and its partner Church World Service (CWS) staff conducted an emergency needs assessment of Haitians located in three prioritized locations based on a pre-assessment desk review, which included Northern New Jersey, an area of high concentration of Haitian communities.

Respondents identified several barriers: language (67%), legal status (52%), lack of knowledge about services (48%), and transportation (46%). Money/financial/cash assistance was identified by 92% of respondents as the support that would help them to meet their household needs.

These challenges are shared among all populations. Limited to no access to food is a severe barrier for newly arrived individuals and families. Food is the most important need for families who have weathered stress and uncertainty about their next meal, as is the case for the large volume of Cuban and Haitian arrivals in our region. Financial assistance is an important emergency intervention meant to alleviate the basic needs of resettling families. There are a number of reasons people may need cash assistance:

1) They are facing prolonged delays in receiving SNAP benefits and other public benefits, 2) their expenses increased due to family growth, medical emergencies, or rent prices, 3) they are still waiting for their employment authorization card, or 4) they are ineligible for benefits.

Clients benefit from direct financial assistance to access food, diapers, hygiene/health products, and related emergency basics. Cash assistance may be the best option for clients to secure access to food or pay for other essentials—even a mobile phone bill they might have previously considered impossible to do. 

As a result of the emergency needs assessment, IRC in NJ received funding to distribute one-time prepaid gift cards to households, individuals, and couples in our community, meeting established criteria and on our Intake and Casework team’s caseload. This relief effort, while finite, will serve almost 300 individuals in our area over the next few months.  

In addition, certain new arrivals in the United States, meeting criteria pre-determined by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, are entitled to apply for and receive public benefits, including monthly monetary assistance for a set period of time, as they settle into their new lives. In this small but concrete way, the IRC in NJ aims to address food insecurity experienced here while acknowledging this challenge felt among all populations. 

Requesting the services of the Intake and Casework team using a QR-coded flier widely available at our office or sometimes shared via text in our community is how clients request support. The team is working very hard to shorten wait times during this era of high demand for our services. The process to be able to sit with a caseworker and getting help applying for all types of assistance, including cash assistance, has many steps and can take up to 30 days: 

Pre-verification: clients scan the QR to fill out the form on the LinkTree > verification process begins > document collection > pre-intake > Full intake with all applications complete > waiting period of up to 4-5 months for families, less time for singles and couples > public and cash assistance received.  

This spring and summer, the Intake and Casework team continues to focus its efforts on all of the clients in the queue for cash assistance while still making connections with each person served. To streamline the process while also tackling the list of interested clients, caseworkers are proactively seeing more clients—while still giving the same level of care, time, and attention to each case. Extra hands are contributing to the pre-screenings and communications necessary for each person, couple, or family. At the time of publication, 100 singles and couples have been verified to become clients of the IRC in NJ’s Refugee Cash Assistance program. Of those 75 are Haitian. 

Volunteers are instrumental in an intake initiative of this size. Gabriel, an IRC in NJ volunteer, has translated client-facing information into Haitian Creole so clients understand the intake process, the applications they are completing, and the subsequent steps they can expect. Gabriel has even assisted a caseworker, as an interpreter, during an intake.  

With these numbers and increasing verification and communication efforts, the IRC in NJ continues the mighty work of almost 20 caseworkers in the Intake and Casework Department. They are reaching out to clients via WhatsApp and working hard to support their requests. Through sheer determination, the Intake and Casework team of the IRC in NJ has reached out to all clients on our list and looks forward to meeting them!