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Federal government covers most resettlement costs for refugees in ND

Laetitia Mizero Hellerud talks about her and her children's experience coming to North Dakota as refugees Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017, at the North Dakota Legislative Management Human Services Committee meeting in Jamestown, N.D. Chris Olson / Forum News Service

JAMESTOWN, N.D. — Laetitia Mizero Hellerud fled her home country of Burundi as a child due to political unrest.

She lived in France, Rwanda and Burkina Faso before she and her children settled in Fargo in 1998.

Almost 20 years later Hellerud found herself speaking about her experience as a refugee and winding up in North Dakota to the North Dakota Legislative Management Human Services Committee Wednesday afternoon, Oct. 25, in Jamestown. The committee received information on the number of refugees in the state and how government funds, mainly from the federal government, are used to support refugees when they first arrive. Lutheran Social Services North Dakota and the North Dakota Department of Human Services provided the information.

Hellerud wrote a book about her experience as a refugee, "Being at Home in the World." Each member of the committee received a copy of her book.

Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, asked Hellerud what has kept her in North Dakota.

"It's certainly not the cold," she said, eliciting a laugh from the committee. "The people make up for the harsh weather."

Hellerud said for the most part her experience in Fargo and North Dakota has been positive.

According to information provided by Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota, between 1997 and 2015, on average 400 refugees a year settled in North Dakota. Of those refugees, 85 percent were reuniting with families and 40 percent were children.

Shirley Dykshoorn, vice president for senior and humanitarian services for Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota, said the funding sources to provide services to refugees is a complex issue. The main sources of funding for these services come from the federal government, with some support from the state and private sources.

She said the average total cost to resettle a refugee in North Dakota is $5,513, including all sources.

"There are a lot of nuances in that figure," she said. "You have to consider distance traveled, is this a single person or a family, there many factors."

Sen. David Clemens, R-West Fargo, asked Dykshoorn if the federal government reimburses the state for any funds it spends on refugee resettlement, and if Lutheran Social Services keeps track of refugees once they are settled in the state.

Dykshoorn said Lutheran Social Services doesn't keep track of refugees once they are out of the Lutheran Social Services system.

"When they receive services from us, we know where they are," she said.

Dykshoorn said refugees are only eligible to receive most of the assistance benefits for eight months. Even with the help refugees receive from Lutheran Social Services, she said they emphasize the importance of getting a job to refugees.

Maggie Anderson, director of the Medical Services Division for the Department of Human Services, presented figures showing that 2,983 refugees received Medicaid services in North Dakota for fiscal year 2017. She said applicants for Medicaid are required to provide documentation of their alien status at the time of application.

"Their status is verified through the SANE (Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements) system through Immigration and Naturalization Services," Anderson said.

Rep. Kathy Hogan, D-Fargo, chairman of the Human Services Committee, said the committee will continue gathering information on the issue when it meets next month.

Chris Olson

Hometown: Traverse City, MI College: Northwestern Michigan College and Michigan State University

(701) 952-8454