Atlanta area lawmakers cite ‘historic number of migrants’ in letter to FEMA

U.S. Reps. Hank Johnson, Lucy McBath and Nikema Williams asked that Atlanta be given more time to use a multimillion dollar grant meant to help the city cope with a migrant surge

Atlanta needs more time to use the millions of dollars it received from the federal government to help feed and shelter an estimated 46,000 migrants that have arrived here from the southern border with Mexico.

In a letter that captures the scale of the recent and ongoing migration surge to the metro area, Democratic U.S. Reps. Hank Johnson, Lucy McBath, and Nikema Williams asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency to give Atlanta an additional year to spend $6.9 million in grant money it received from FEMA to help meet the humanitarian needs of new migrants.

The allocation was announced in May and the city was given until Dec. 31 to spend the money.

“Georgia continues to receive historic numbers of migrants seeking asylum, and with other cities having limited resources, there is no doubt that the metro-Atlanta will continue to be impacted,” the lawmakers wrote.

“In order to be prudent with the federal funding, and to meaningfully address this critical need, Atlanta needs time to scale.”

According to the trio of congressmembers, the number of migrants evaluated to receive services locally is over 46,000 and rising. “Our weekly new arrival numbers continue to increase,” they wrote.

Atlanta is disbursing the FEMA money to four local organizations that provide wraparound services to migrants: the Latin American Association, Casa Alterna, Inspiritus and the International Rescue Committee. The city originally had until December 31, 2023, to incur and expend its approved funds, but Johnson, McBath, and Williams are asking that be pushed back until December 31, 2024. They noted that “grant management hurdles” had delayed the disbursing process.

“If granted, this 12-month extension will result in more asylum seekers being served through this program with improved outcomes,” they wrote. “All the subrecipients have indicated that an extension is necessary to do this work properly, and we must do what we can to support these direct service providers.”

The $6.9 million given to Atlanta was part of a $332.5 million allocation to FEMA’s Emergency Food and Shelter Program-Humanitarian program. Except for a nonprofit in Miami, Atlanta is the only recipient of FEMA aid in the Southeast, with the bulk of the money flowing to local governments and organizations in Texas, Arizona and California.

Over the past two and a half years, Border Patrol agents apprehended unprecedented numbers of migrants crossing the southern border illegally. In fiscal year 2023, those border apprehensions totaled 2.5 million, surpassing the previous record of 2.2 million set in 2022. The bulk of this surge in migration came from Latin American countries including Venezuela, Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador.

To help communities across the country cope with the surge of often destitute newcomers, FEMA announced in late summer that an additional $368 million would be given to communities nationwide through a new Shelter and Services Program (SSP). That money included a second grant for Atlanta of $4.8 million. It is meant to cover shelter, food, transportation and acute medical care, among other services.

Migrants are only eligible to receive services within the first 45 days of their release from immigration custody. The deadline to expend SSP funds is September 30, 2025.

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