Changes to Categorization of Refugee Resettlement Programs

Dear Colleague Letter 19-03

Publication Date: April 25, 2019

April 9, 2019

Dear Colleague:

This letter provides information about changes to the categorization of some refugee resettlement programs.

In the majority of locations, the state government administers the ORR-funded Refugee Resettlement Program (RRP) and provides Refugee Cash Assistance (RCA) based on the state’s Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program or through a Public Private Partnership (PPP).  However, in five states,1 ORR selected one or more private non-profit agencies as a Replacement Designee (RD),2 to administer the RRP after the state government withdrew from administering all or part of the program.  In 12 states3 and San Diego County, CA, ORR has funded Wilson-Fish (WF) projects, an alternative to traditional state-administered refugee resettlement programs for providing cash assistance and social services to refugees.  Of these 13 WF projects, two4 are administered by state governments; the remainder are administered by private non-profit refugee resettlement agencies.

States and RDs are funded through ORR’s formula-based Cash and Medical Assistance (CMA) program, while WF projects are funded through a discretionary process.

Changes to the Structure of the Refugee Resettlement Program            

To increase cost efficiency and decrease the administrative burden of ORR’s administration of the national refugee resettlement program, ORR will transition 9 of the private non-profit refugee resettlement agencies administering state-wide WF projects to RDs.5 In the case of the remaining two private non-profit refugee resettlement agencies that administer a WF project but do not coordinate a state-wide RRP, ORR will direct CMA funding to the relevant state.6 This will allow all RRPs to be administered by either a state or an RD.

In addition, this administrative change will allow the WF program to be used to support innovative methods of addressing unmet needs or gaps in the refugee program.  The WF program will be a competitive discretionary grant, rather than a mechanism for administering the RRP when a state withdraws from its administration.  More information on the revised WF program will be announced through a Forecast on

Process of Changes to the Structure

The current WF project period ends September 29, 2019, while Federal Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 CMA programming begins October 1, 2019.  ORR plans to enact a one-day extension to the current WF project period and will continue to fund agencies administering WF projects through discretionary WF funds through the end of the project period.

As of October 1, 2019, ORR will support the RRP in all states through CMA formula funding to the state government and/or one or more RDs.  ORR will formally designate each of the agencies that administer a WF project and coordinate a state-wide RRP as an RD, transitioning them to funding through the formula-based CMA program.7  State governments will continue to be able to administer CMA through the traditional publically-administered RCA program based on the state TANF program or as a PPP.  RDs will be governed by ORR’s PPP regulations, 45 CFR Sections 400.56-63.

For FY 2020, to receive funding to administer the RRP in their designated location, RDs, as with state governments, will be required to submit a State Plan that is approved by ORR.  Also as with state governments, RDs will be required to submit a budget estimate (known as an ORR-1) and budget justification to ORR.  The State Plan, ORR-1, and budget justification are due to ORR by August 15 each year for the FY beginning October 1 of that year. 

For FY 2021, ORR will conduct an application process for the RDs. The details of this process are under review and will be communicated to the RDs at a later time.

These changes will not affect administration of the Refugee Medical Assistance Program or Unaccompanied Refugee Minor program, in the states where such a program exists.  In addition, the entity operating the RRP will receive formula Refugee Support Services base and set-aside funds.

Contact Information

If you have any questions about this Dear Colleague Letter, please contact Colleen Mahar-Piersma by email at

Jonathan H. Hayes
Office of Refugee Resettlement


1. Kansas, Maine, Missouri, New Jersey, and Texas
2. See ORR Policy Letter 18-03 for more information on Replacement Designees.
3. Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Vermont
4. Colorado and Massachusetts
5. The state-administered WF projects of CO and MA will not require designation as an RD.
6. The State of California will resume coordination of the RRP within San Diego County, CA, while the State of Vermont will resume coordination of all elements of the state-wide RRP.
7.The status of RD indicates that ORR has selected a private non-profit agency to administer all or part of a Refugee Resettlement Program; it does not refer to the source of funds ORR uses to support that agency.

Current as of: