Kentucky senator wants to spend $50 million to welcome Ukrainian refugees

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A Kentucky state senator has proposed to allocate $50 million to help refugees resettle into the state.

Through Senate Bill 1995, state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R-Ryland Heights) wants that funding to go to the Kentucky Office of Refugees. The agency would then use that money to provide $10,000 grants to families leaving war-torn areas. It also would waive tuition and mandatory student fees for refugees settling in Kentucky. The senator said the tuition assistance would be similar to what the state offers children in foster care.

The Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee, which McDaniel chairs, passed the bill at its meeting earlier this week.

While the bill covers any international conflict, the focus is on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. McDaniel noted that 3 million residents have fled from the eastern European nation in the last three weeks.

McDaniel said he and others believe there will be a significant opportunity to bring Ukrainian families into the state within six to nine months. Welcoming those individuals could benefit Kentucky as well, he added.

“We talked about the human element. The public policy element is we know we have a workforce problem in this commonwealth,” the senator said. “We’re not going to get out of that any time soon.”

It’s not just that Kentucky’s workforce participation rate is among the lowest in the United States, a key issue Republican lawmakers have zeroed in on during the 2022 session. McDaniel added that Kentucky recorded more deaths than births for the first time last year.

“If we can help human interest, basic decency and public policy all meet at a common point, I believe it is incumbent upon us to do so,” McDaniel said.

John Koehlinger, executive director for Kentucky Refugee Ministries, told committee members that the state plays a significant role in the country’s refugee program. For example, of the more than 70,000 Afghans who fled that country last year, KRM helped resettle more than 400 of them in the state.

Koehlinger said many Afghan refugees who resettled in the state last fall are already working. In addition, the state previously resettled some Ukrainian refugees who fled religious persecution in the Soviet Union decades ago.

There are other agencies that, through the Office of Refugees, help resettle refugees as well. Koehlinger said the most refugees he recalls being resettled in the state came six years ago when 2,385 people came to the commonwealth.

Even as Kentucky does more than some other states, Koehlinger said he feels that Kentucky could do even more with public support.

The bill now goes to the Senate floor.

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Written by Syeve Bittenbender. Cross-posted from The Center Square.

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