Apr 25, 2024 - Politics

Advocacy groups want more input in county's plan for federal migrant aid

A line of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border

Asylum-seeking migrants wait to be processed in Jacumba Hot Springs. Photo: Qian Weizhong/VCG via Getty Images

San Diego County and local advocacy groups are at odds over the process for spending $39 million of federal funds for migrant aid as a key deadline looms.

Why it matters: The money is critical to address the ongoing migrant crisis in San Diego, where tens of thousands of people, many seeking asylum, have been released and arrested by border patrol in recent months.

How it works: FEMA's Shelter and Services Program (SSP) gives money to local organizations and governments offering assistance to migrants and asylum seekers in border communities.

State of play: San Diego County was unexpectedly awarded $19.6 million of those funds for fiscal 2024 earlier this month. Without its own migrant shelter or center for services, the county is more of a vehicle for the money.

  • In order to get the promised cash, the county needs to submit a plan to FEMA by today, outlining how the money will be spent.
  • Local migrant services groups and San Diego's congressional delegation have urged the county to collaborate with advocates before submitting that plan.
  • California Welcoming Task Force's member organizations said in a statement Monday they should be part of the conversation beforehand to ensure the money will go "where it can do the most good." But that didn't happen.

Between the lines: The plan is expected to come in ahead of deadline — but not get specific about the groups, projects and amounts of money involved, according to county spokesperson Michael Workman.

  • Instead, the county will meet with local migrant services organizations post-deadline and determine how the money will be dispersed through contracts approved by the County Board of Supervisors, he said. That process could take weeks.
  • The county is also asking for the federal money up front so that local groups, particularly smaller ones, can do the work sooner, he said.

Zoom in: In the past, similar money has gone toward local centers that provide vulnerable migrants and families temporary shelter, meals and transportation to their final destination.

Context: While the San Diego region is receiving more SSP money overall this fiscal year than last year, the two major local organizations will each get about $5 million less.

  • Last fiscal year, Catholic Charities' received about $29 million designated for San Diego County, plus about $6 million for Imperial County.
  • It split that money with Jewish Family Service, which it plans to do again.
  • Both organizations told the U-T the money "will not begin to cover" expenses to operate their shelters.

What's next: Once the county gets a response from FEMA on its plan, community groups will be able to meet with officials and request the funding for migrant services.


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