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Burgum: State to take over refugee resettlement after LSS

January 25, 2021 GMT
FILE - In this April 10, 2020, file photo, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum speaks at the state Capitol in Bismarck, N.D. Lawmakers convene Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021 either in person wearing masks or remotely for North Dakota's 67th legislative session, where they will face tough spending choices amid a pandemic that's hit a state economy already reeling from depressed oil and agriculture prices. The Republican governor is set to talk about the coronavirus' impact on the state and other pandemic-induced challenges, including to the state's budget.(Mike McCleary/The Bismarck Tribune via AP)
FILE - In this April 10, 2020, file photo, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum speaks at the state Capitol in Bismarck, N.D. Lawmakers convene Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021 either in person wearing masks or remotely for North Dakota's 67th legislative session, where they will face tough spending choices amid a pandemic that's hit a state economy already reeling from depressed oil and agriculture prices. The Republican governor is set to talk about the coronavirus' impact on the state and other pandemic-induced challenges, including to the state's budget.(Mike McCleary/The Bismarck Tribune via AP)

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — Gov. Doug Burgum on Monday announced that the state Department of Human Services will take over refugee resettlement after the private agency that has managed resettlement, Lutheran Social Services, shuts down.

Burgum said it’s essential for the state to step in to administer the federally funded program or it risks losing control.

Burgum said the program will be run “to ensure that refugee resettlement in North Dakota continues in a thoughtful, orderly and responsible manner at no additional cost to North Dakota taxpayers.”

The Trump administration slashed refugee admissions by more than 85%, setting the limit at 15,000 for fiscal year 2021, which started in October. President Joe Biden during his campaign vowed to raise that to 125,000 for this year and possibly boost it even higher in subsequent years.

Mike Nowatzki, spokesman for the governor’s office, declined to “speculate” on Biden’s plans for admissions but said he doesn’t expect to see the program throttled back because of the change. North Dakota resettled 124 refugees in fiscal year 2019 and 44 refugees in fiscal year 2020, according to Burgum’s office.

The Department of Human Services “is working toward a smooth transition” with Lutheran Social Services and the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement, Nowatzki said.

Lutheran Social Services announced Jan. 15 it would shut down due to financial troubles mainly attributed to its affordable housing program. The agency has been serving as refugee coordinator for North Dakota since 2010.

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Mike Williams, former longtime Fargo city commissioner and ardent supporter of the Lutheran Social Services resettlement program, said it will be difficult to fill the void left by the agency’s departure.

“They’ve done so much good work for so many for over a century,” Williams said. “I hope with our new administration we’ll focus on people and their well being instead of the Fortune 500.”

The issue of refugee resettlement flared in 2019 after Trump, an in executive order, said new efforts to resettle them would require permission from state and local governments. Burgum said the state would continue to accept refugees as long as local governments agreed.

Burleigh County, home to Bismarck, attracted national attention for considering a ban on new refugees before ultimately imposing a limit of 25 in 2020.