On every Friday newly arrived refugees attend orientation. Mandated by DHS (Department for Human Services) this four-class orientation covers the basics of transitioning into American life. Yesterday I went to the fourth orientation held at local church. Yesterdays topics covered home safety, public benefits, domestic abuse and nutrition. Each topic was presented by a specialist or a case worker whose speech would then be translated into the four or five different languages needed for clients. Because there were so many different translators speaking at once and so many crying babies I felt like a large amount of the speakers information was lost in the clutter. Regardless, it was interesting hearing what is considered the “vitals” and “basics” of American life.
I sat with a case worker friend and her Liberian clients. (A good portion of the last few days were spent trying to figure out a bed bug problem at their daughters apartment.) Still they were in good spirits, while there is lots of information too take in, the orientation is exciting. For most of these families this orientation marks their fourth week in the U.S.
For me the most interesting part of orientation was learning about public benefits. I had been learning about benefits, cash assistance, food stamps, SSI etc, through daily conversation at work and was familiar with housing benefits such as LIHEAP through my work, but it was nice learning about the basics of the benefits. These programs are absolutely essential for these families, but are almost always supplements to the assistance we provide them. Families cannot truly survive on public aide, thus getting a stable job as soon as possible is crucial. Applying and understanding which benefits your eligible for can be pretty complicated. Further public aide has very rigid guidelines. Messing up or sneaking around (not reporting your employment status for example) can result in huge consequences. For the Liberians they were recently granted TANIF (temporary assistance for needy families) which is one of the more generous programs.