By State Reps. Kevin Boyle and Rob Matzie
People seeking refuge from hostility or persecution have always found a home in Pennsylvania – welcoming them is in our DNA. After all, our commonwealth was born of William Penn’s great “experiment” to establish a community where religious tolerance – an unusual idea at the time – was the guiding principle.
Since then, Pennsylvania has greeted refugees from every corner of the globe, escaping every kind of oppression. Pennsylvania grew to embody its 1980s tagline: You’ve Got a Friend in Pennsylvania.
Now, as we watch in disbelief and sadness at the tragedy unfolding in Ukraine, it is time to again open our communities’ doors and hearts to welcome newcomers to our beautiful commonwealth. This is not some crisis affecting strangers on the nightly news. These are our neighbors’ families. This is local. This is real. This is touching our communities.
From Philadelphia to Ambridge, and in communities in between, more than 122,000 Ukrainians already call Pennsylvania “home,” the second-highest number of any state in the nation. And we want to assure those seeking refuge in our state now due to the current hostility that they are welcome, too. That is why we’ve proposed the creation of the New Neighbors Fund that would authorize up to $2 million to support services for refugees from Ukraine.
The New Neighbors Fund would supplement existing federal investments, and would create a faster, more flexible way to deliver expanded services to help Ukrainians transition to their new communities. Funding would help our new neighbors secure long-term housing, and receive services like English as a Second Language instruction, occupational skills training and (re)certification courses for arrivals with degrees earned overseas that are not transferable to the U.S.
While we’ve witnessed great destruction in Ukraine, we’ve also seen great compassion from communities around the world and right here in the commonwealth. Pennsylvanians from across the state are finding innovative and meaningful ways to help Ukrainians in need. From church collections to local business contributions to law enforcement equipment donations for the Ukrainian resistance, we believe that the New Neighbors Fund would complement these grassroots efforts to aid those fleeing and who choose to resettle in our commonwealth.
Pennsylvania took swift action when Russia invaded to divest of Russia-related investments and to stop purchasing Russian-source products. Now as Ukraine courageously fights to defend itself from Russian aggression and the world contends with the largest refugee crisis since World War II, Pennsylvania’s New Neighbors Fund would also renew our commitment to Ukraine and our rich legacy of helping those in great need who are escaping oppression, no matter who that oppressor is. ••