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 refugees to reach self-sufficiency and financial stability.
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 learning what is different here. Other refugees, however, lived in refugee camps for most of their life and have no idea how to manage their money. These refugees will need help with financial literacy and financial training.
Volunteers can assist refugees with finances in the following ways:
1. Teach how to use EBT card: The EBT card may have "food stamps" and/or cash (from Refugee Cash Assistance or Work First Programs) loaded to it. Volunteers can help refugees learn how to use, check balance, and re-apply for these programs.
2. Teach refugees how to set up a bank account: The first step is getting a bank account set up for refugees. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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 and other mail 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.
5. Teach refugees how to balance a budget: Volunteers can help refugees begin the budgeting process. This includes helping refugees understand their monthly expenditures and sources of income (Food Stamps, Medicaid, and 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.
7. Assist refugees in filing their taxes. More info on the Filing Taxes page of this toolkit.
- Have an enlarged photocopy of a check (with the bank account numbers blacked out). The refugee 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 refugees hands a bill or a rent notice to the volunteer, the volunteer should not assume responsibility. Volunteers should ask refugees “What are you 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.