Pima County faces imminent challenges in aiding and accommodating asylum seekers due to a recent alteration in federal funding allocation. The shift from FEMA’s Emergency Food and Shelter Program to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Sheltering Services Program, which commenced on January 1, has significantly reduced resources available for sheltering and medical screening operations for asylum seekers.
Potential Impact: Street Releases and Strain on Local Resources
County Administrator Jan Lesher has raised concerns about the impending consequences, warning of possible street releases as early as the end of February. This shift in federal funding has caused a strain on Pima County’s resources, with Lesher highlighting the county’s accommodation of around 9,500 released asylum seekers weekly from CBP.
The increased CBP releases, which initially accounted for more than 1,100 individuals per day in Pima County, necessitate immediate support, posing a challenge to the county’s infrastructure and resources.
Shifting Financial Burden and Resource Management
To counteract the financial strain, Pima County has adopted various strategies. These include stacking federal dollars – approximately $7 million from the Sheltering Services Program – with other funding sources to sustain shelter and medical screening operations.
Lesher emphasized the county’s efforts to optimize available funds by transitioning from traditional meals to Meal Ready to Eat (MRE) rations, temporary staffing adjustments, and reducing transportation costs. Despite these adaptations, the county faces imminent funding shortages that might jeopardize ongoing support for asylum seekers.
Health Department’s Response and Concerns
The Pima County Health Department has also been impacted by the funding shift, prompting a transition from federal to state resources through the Immigrant Care and Testing program. This transition aims to ensure continuity in medical screenings for asylum seekers during CBP releases.
Health Department Director Dr. Theresa Cullen highlighted the importance of cost-effectiveness, expressing plans to fill 19 temporary positions internally, shifting from utilizing external contractors. However, the temporary nature of these positions raises concerns about sustained support beyond June, contingent on funding availability.
Medical Screenings and Future Challenges
Medical screenings remain a crucial aspect of the process, aiming to identify potential health risks among asylum seekers. The Health Department’s streamlined screenings, focusing on symptoms and medical conditions, aim to ensure the community’s health while accommodating the needs of asylum seekers.
Despite efforts to manage the situation, uncertainties loom, particularly concerning potential street releases and the strain it could impose on local resources. Past experiences in other border communities, like El Paso, serve as cautionary examples of challenges associated with handling street releases and the strain on local infrastructure.
Impending Challenges: The Greyhound Station Dilemma
Pima County anticipates using the Greyhound bus station in Tucson as a drop-off point for asylum seekers if federal funding for shelter operations ceases. However, concerns regarding safety and logistical constraints at the station persist, given its limited capacity compared to the influx of released individuals.
The county is actively exploring alternative solutions and collaborating with various agencies to manage potential challenges post-February, highlighting the need for coordinated efforts and additional resources to alleviate the strain.
The impending funding shortage poses a significant challenge for Pima County, necessitating proactive measures and collaborative efforts to ensure continued support for asylum seekers without overburdening local resources. As the situation unfolds, the county remains vigilant, seeking solutions to effectively manage potential street releases and sustain aid for asylum seekers while balancing the community’s needs.