Financial Support for Refugees

Refugees are supported financially in various ways during their resettlement period. The following is a short list of some of the financial supports provided to refugees.  

  • Welcome Money: Every refugee arriving in the US receives $925 from the government to start their life in the US. This money is the source for all of their expenses over the next three months.
  • Refugees also apply for emergency assistance from the government to assist them until they become financially stable.
  • Refugees receive case management support for three months, which decreases leading up to their 90 days as they grow in self-sufficiency.
  • The welcome money provides refugees a window of time to find employment and financial stability. During that time they pay their expenses from their welcome money. 
  • Six months after their arrival, refugees will receive a bill for their initial travel expenses. This is called the IOM travel loan. The IOM travel loan department is very cooperative with refugees regarding the time frame of the loan repayment. The money returned to IOM allows other refugees to travel to the US.

NOTE: Many GNTs & volunteers are appropriately concerned about the financial situation that refugees are in upon arriving in the country. However, when seeking to financially assist refugees, it is important to assist in a way that encourages the refugee to reach self-sufficiency and financial stability. 

Prior to coming to the US, some refugees lived in cities, worked jobs, had bank accounts, paid their bills, and set up their own budgets. These refugees may need some help adjusting to some of the cultural, procedural and systematic differences that they will encounter while working and managing their finances in the US. Other refugees, however, lived in refugee camps for most of their lives and are not accustomed to managing money. These refugees will need help with financial literacy and financial training to gain fluency in these areas.

Volunteers’ role:

Volunteers can assist refugees with finances in the following ways:

  1. Volunteers can then teach refugees how to use their account (withdraw or deposit money, write checks, track their expenditures, etc.). After a time, you may even want to teach them about online banking.
  2. Teach refugees about the ATM, debit cards and credit cards: Volunteers can show refugees how to access the nearest ATM, how to use a debit and credit card (make sure to explain how credit works), and the importance of keeping up with these cards.
  3. Explain bills and how to balance a checkbook: Refugees will eventually receive bills, such as utilities and phone bills. Volunteers can help refugees identify bills from junk mail, how to read the bills, and how to pay bills. Also, teach refugees how to write a check and balance a checkbook.
  4. Teach refugees how to read and understand their bills and other mail.
  5. Teach refugees how to balance a monthly budget:Volunteers will help refugees begin the budgeting process. This includes helping refugees understand their monthly expenditures and sources of income (Food Stamps, Medicaid, Cash Assistance). Remind them that the initial grant ($925 a person) was ONE time. Volunteers will also need to discuss the need for employment.
  6. Teach refugees about the concept of money in the US, and currency: Volunteers can teach refugees about U.S. currency. Describe the different values of coins and bills.

Volunteers can also use our financial literacy materials to help refugees.

The Cultural Orientation Resource Center has a set of activities volunteers can do with their partnered refugees, to help them grasp concepts of currency, budgeting and personal finance, bills, etc. Here is their Budgeting toolkit.

Helpful Tips:

  • Have an enlarged photocopy of a check (with the bank account numbers blacked out). The refugees can use this as a model to help them remember where they put certain information. Volunteers can do the same thing with past bills (photocopy the completed stub before helping them to mail it in).
  • As their English increases, they will be able to understand more. Help them learn “financial” English.
  • When a refugee hands a bill or a rent notice to the volunteer, the volunteer should not assume responsibility. Volunteers should ask refugees what they are going to do? Let them think. If they haven’t set up a bank account, volunteers can start helping them understand the need for a bank account. The goal is not to take over responsibility, but to help the refugees to learn to manage the responsibility.