Representatives of agencies that help Soviet refugees learn English and find jobs said Friday that they are bracing for a dramatic increase in the number of new immigrants moving to Los Angeles County in the next year as a result of the Soviet Union's perestroika policy.
The projected increase in Soviet immigrants to the United States, mostly Jewish and Armenian--from fewer than 800 in 1986 to as many as 150,000 from now to the end of 1990--comes as Congress considers cuts in refugee assistance programs in its 1989-90 fiscal budget, according to testimony Friday before a state legislative committee on refugee resettlement.
"The strain of additional refugees is one that we welcome, something that we have been working toward for years," said Wayne Feinstein, vice president of the Jewish Federation Council in Los Angeles. "But we've had a steady flow in the past and we are not prepared for the gates of the Soviet Union to open as wide as they have."
Need for More Aid
Feinstein said the council and its affiliates will spend about $20 million next year in public and private funds to assist Soviet refugees with counseling, medical care, education and job training.
The council expects to help about 5,000 Soviet refugees next year, compared to 1,800 this year, said Sandra King, executive director of the Los Angeles Jewish Family Services.
More than 100,000 Soviet immigrants could arrive in the United States in 1990, said Gregory Makaron, president of the Los Angeles Assn. of Soviet Jewish Emigres and himself a former \o7 refusenik.\f7
Since 1987, most Soviet Armenians and about 10% of the Soviet Jews coming to the United States have settled in Los Angeles County, county officials said. Under its reform program, Moscow has taken away many restrictions against moving to the United States, and as a result Soviet Jews are choosing the United States over Israel, their previous destination.
In addition to Soviet Jews and Armenians, local assistance groups are also expecting growing numbers of Soviet Baptist and Pentecostal immigrants.
Refugee assistance representatives say more money is needed to keep up with growing numbers of newly arrived Soviets.
The legislative committee's chairman, state Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles), said he and other Sacramento lawmakers have urged the federal government to increase or at least maintain its levels of refugee assistance spending.
"The Senate Appropriations Committee needs to hear that California is bearing the major brunt of taking care of the refugees," Torres said. "Unfortunately, the liberalization of Soviet policies comes at a time of increasing U.S. budget restraints."
State refugee coordinator Walter Barnes said, for example, that this year Los Angeles County will receive only about a quarter of the federal refugee help it received in 1983. The roughly $10 million earmarked for refugee assistance, employment and training in the county represents about one-third of California's total federal refugee assistance, he said.
Spending public money to help refugees learn English and find jobs is an investment by taxpayers that is repaid many times over, Barnes said.
"We are priming the pump with this money," Barnes said. "These people are motivated and interested in buying into the American dream."
Federal officials have said many new Soviet refugees do not need public assistance.
However, Zabelle Alahydoian, director of the Armenian Evangelical Social Services Center, said more than 9,000 Soviet Armenians have settled in the Hollywood area, many getting their start with the help of public assistance. Like the Jewish Federation, the Armenian groups try to help refugees find jobs within six months of their arrival in the United States, she said.
"It is said that Armenians can squeeze bread out of stones," Alahydoian said. "But they still need help from the government to get started."