Governor Wolf Calls on Schools and Communities to Prepare to Welcome Ukrainian Refugees to Pennsylvania
The United States is expected to take in up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, and agencies in Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania are preparing to take them in. Governor Tom Wolf is asking schools to admit newly resettled students and state lawmakers to support the allocation of $2 million for support programs.
“We have all watched with immense sadness as Ukrainians endure horrific and unprovoked attacks on their homeland. We will now have the opportunity to mitigate the tragic aftermath of this horror for some of the youngest Ukrainian refugees,” said Wolf.
Most Ukrainians are expected to prefer to stay in Europe, according to NPR. But the US government is prepared to use its refugee and immigration programs to bring in vulnerable people, including LGBT people, people with medical needs, journalists and dissidents.
Wolf and Pennsylvania Education Secretary Noe Ortega said Friday the administration sent a letter to schools reminding administrators of their legal obligation to enroll students within five days of receiving their documentation.
“In anticipation of an influx of Ukrainian families coming to Pennsylvania in the coming weeks, it is imperative that our school communities are prepared to provide high-quality educational services to new students in a seamless and efficient manner,” Ortega said.
The letter also expressed the schools’ obligation to provide language services to students and parents who may not be fluent in English.
“Schools should identify English language (EL) learner students and take positive steps to ensure that all EL students receive appropriate language support services to enable them to participate meaningfully in educational programs,” says the letter. “Additionally, school districts and charter schools must communicate information to EL parents in a language they can understand.”
Legislation introduced in the Pennsylvania House and Senate last week would give the Department of Human Services $2 million to use for its refugee resettlement program. The bill’s sponsors say the funds would allow entrepreneurs to work faster and more efficiently to help refugees find and keep jobs and fully integrate into their new communities.
“The first refugees from Ukraine are beginning to arrive in Pennsylvania this week, and agencies ready to receive them need our support,” said the bill’s sponsor, Senator Lindsey Williams.
Wolf issued a statement supporting the legislation and called on the legislature to continue severing financial ties with Russia.
“Pennsylvania was founded on the ideals of peace, tolerance, and security for all, and we will continue to model those ideals and be a welcoming home to all who seek a safe haven in the United States,” he said. -he declares. “This proposed funding will give the Commonwealth the flexibility to invest quickly and effectively in refugee services and ultimately provide safe haven for these people.”
In Pittsburgh, Jewish Family and Community Services has previously helped people fleeing war in Ukraine, according to Ivonne Smith-Tapia, the organization’s director of immigrant and refugee services. So far, JFCS has helped 10 people who fled to the Pittsburgh area to join family members or on special visas.
“Right now we’re helping people from Ukraine who arrived on their own,” Smith-Tapia said. “Help them with whatever they need. Navigate systems, enroll children in schools [and] helping them access the benefits to which they are entitled.
Smith-Tapia said local school districts are very familiar with enrolling international students arriving in Pittsburgh. “It’s really the schools that are managing this process,” she said. JFCS will help students with necessary documents and other requirements such as vaccinations.
The organization has resettled refugees from more than 100 countries during its 84 years of existence. JFCS began helping Afghan refugees resettle in Pittsburgh last summer, but Smith-Tapia said the process for Ukrainian refugees would be a little different.
Ukrainian refugees “are not going to arrive the same way Afghan refugees arrived in Pittsburgh,” Smith-Tapia said. “Even though the Biden administration has announced that the United States will welcome refugees, we don’t know when that will happen.”
Smith-Tapia said many refugees would stay in Europe or apply to come to the United States through a longer process. Some may not arrive for several months.
But when the first wave of refugees begins to land in the Pittsburgh area, JFCS will be ready to help them with housing, clothing, food and other services. According to Smith-Tapia, the organization will also work with the Ukrainian community in Pittsburgh to help find newly resettled churches and other cultural organizations.