By: David Yassky, candidate for State Senate District 23
Like so many other New Yorkers, my family came to the United States from Eastern Europe, fleeing war and persecution in search of freedom and opportunity.
My great-grandfather Abraham Tavashansky immigrated from Ukraine in 1910. Five years earlier, Russian officials had forced him to serve in their army, fighting against Japan. He lost a leg.
Abraham arrived in the U.S. at age 25, with a wooden leg and a determination to forge a better life. Unlike today, there were no services to help him deal with the hardships of resettlement. His wife died young and he was forced to place his daughter — my grandmother — in an orphanage until he was able to earn a living and create a more stable life for her at home. Against the odds, he was able to build a life for him and his family, right here in New York.
With destruction and unrest forcing more than three million Ukranians to flee their country, we need to ensure New York is prepared to deliver on its promise to support incoming refugees. So that they feel supported, cared for and given the opportunity to pursue the American Dream.
Last week, President Joe Biden announced the United States will welcome 100,000 Ukrainian refugees. New York is home to over 150,000 Ukrainians — the largest Ukrainian population outside of Ukraine, itself — and it is safe to assume our State will be a likely destination for many refugees.
While Gov. Kathy Hochul has said that New York will welcome refugees with open arms, the people fleeing from the war need much more support than generic platitudes.
If we truly want to assist Ukrainian refugees in a meaningful way, we need to make sure the state’s refugee services budget is fully funded, that outreach centers are stationed in areas with large Ukrainian populations and ensure the Port Authority makes Ukrainian translators available at airports in the greater New York area.
After U.S. troops withdrew from Afghanistan in August, New York increased its refugee services budget from $3 million to $5 million in preparation for the 2,297 of the Afghan refugees who would relocate to New York. However, only $2 million was allocated for those same services in the budget proposed by Hochul in this year’s 2022-2023 budget. That number is nowhere near where it needs to be if we are to truly provide the resources and services incoming Ukrainian refugees will no doubt need.
While aid typically trickles down from the federal government, it is only made available to refugees for 60 days upon the point of arrival. However, we know it can take years for families to acclimate to a new country and a new life. And we know that providing refugees with an ample amount of services during their first year of resettlement can make a huge difference in how well they are able to acclimate and become a part of their new communities.
Making sure The New York State Enhanced Services to Refugees Program (NYSESRP), which supplements federal funding for refugee services, has adequate funding is key to making sure that New York does not become overwhelmed, as the program provides resettlement services, such as assistance with housing, job training, and schooling.
The city and state should also work together to create temporary outreach centers for refugees, particularly in areas where there are large populations of Ukrainian refugees, such as Brighton Beach and Coney Island, to link people to important services and resources. They should also conduct wellness checks in these areas to ascertain whether or not hospitals have translators available and verify that these areas are able to adequately care for refugees and provide them with the services that they need.
Lastly, the Port Authority should make sure that it has translators sent to airports where we anticipate refugees to arrive, in order to direct them to where they need to go and help them as they seek solace.
The state’s budget is nearly due and if we want any hope of securing the necessary funding required to assist in the smooth relocation of Ukrainian refugees in New York then we have no time to waste. We must call for these programs and services to be funded — and we must do so now.
It’s been over 100 years since my great-grandfather immigrated to the U.S.; let’s not make assimilating into the state as difficult for Ukrainians now as it was then.