Living like a Refugee Starting a New Life on $1,125

When Syrian refugees land in the United States, they have left behind friends and family. They get some government aid to help adapt to their new homeland.

Families told the NYCity News Service that they are grateful for the help, but getting by is difficult. Based on interviews, government statistics and other sources, here is a glimpse of their journey, funded by a one-time subsidy of $1,125 per person.

Do you think you could make ends meet for the first three months?

Leaving Jordan

After two years in a refugee camp in Jordan, you and your family are coming to America. You're eligible for a one-time $1,125 subsidy per person to cover living expenses.

How many members in your family, including yourself?



Item Amount Balance

Relocating

You'll be resettled close to family in the United States to help ease the transition.

Do you have family already in the States?


Item Amount Balance

Your New Hometown

Welcome to Hamtramck, Michigan.

You were placed here to be close to your family. Hamtramck--just outside Detroit-- has a large Middle Eastern community, relative low cost, and job opportunities.

You were provided temporary housing by a local charity, but you'll need to find a place to live.


Item Amount Balance

Your New Hometown

Welcome to Hamtramck, Michigan.

A government-contracted nonprofit decided where you'll live. It could have been any number of towns across the nation. You'll be living in the Detroit suburb because of its large Middle Eastern community, relative low cost, and job opportunities.

You are provided temporary housing, but now you need to find a place to live.


Item Amount Balance

A Place to Live

Census and real estate figures show the typical rent is about $500 a month for a two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment. Many pay more, but you were lucky to find a good deal.

Three months rent will set you back $1,500.

Now you have more spending decisions to make.


Item Amount Balance

Modern Necessities

You need a phone and internet access to call for work, check listings for jobs, and to keep up with your child's school. You go without a cable television plan.

You get a bundle for $41 a month, or $123 over three months.

That's just one of many expenses ahead. Do you want to start looking for a job?


Item Amount Balance
$1,500
$123

Pressure to Get a Job

The financial reality is that your federal stipend is unlikely to carry you beyond three months. Once you need a job, it might take you several months to get an offer.

Do you want to start looking for a job now?


Item Amount Balance
$1,500
$123

Basic Qualification

It may take a month before you get an offer--possibly sooner if you speak English because there are more opportunities.

Do you speak English?


Item Amount Balance
$1,500
$123

Language Barrier

Not speaking English is a hurdle for many refugees. You sign up for English classes, but you find yourself on a long waiting list. Until then you watch YouTube videos to pick up a little English.

It took you two months to find a job, but you start working as janitor or in landscaping -- jobs for which English is not required. You earn about $11 per hour working full-time. After state and federal taxes, you take home $1,400 during your third month in the U.S.

But you might still be eligible for more aid.


Item Amount Balance
$1,500
$123
$1,400

Low Wage Jobs

Speaking English helped you find work faster, but wages aren't any higher. You earn about $11 per hour for typical jobs like home health aids and taxi drivers.

After state and federal taxes, you take home $2,800 working full-time over two month in the U.S.

But you might still be eligible for more aid.


Item Amount Balance
$1,500
$123
$2,800

Food Support

Refugees qualify for the government's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).


Item Amount Balance
$1,500
$123
SNAP

Food Support

Refugees qualify for the government's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).


Item Amount Balance
$1,500
$123
$2,800
SNAP

Food Support

Refugees qualify for the government's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).



Item Amount Balance
$1,500
$123
$1,400
SNAP

Shopping for Groceries


Item Amount Balance
$1,500
$123
SNAP

Item Amount Balance
$1,500
$123
$2,800
SNAP

Item Amount Balance
$1,500
$123
$1,400
SNAP

Little Things that Add Up

A local charity donated a used couch, a table and a few chairs. You also received beds and mattresses for your family. But you still need some sundries and other neccesities. For example, some refugees get job offers but have no transportation. In Hamtramck, you get a monthly bus pass for $66. Others might buy a used car. Or you might share rides arranged by charities, or live close enough to walk to work.

Select all the items you think you need to survive:

Monthly bus pass for two months ($132)
Used car ($1,000)
Gasoline two months ($300)
International calling card for three months ($60)
An iron to press your work clothes ($15)
Comfortable shoes for work ($40)
Toiletries for three months ($75)
Feminine products for 3 months ($36)
Cold medicine ($8)
Ibuprofen ($5)
Toys and games ($50)
Backpack, notebook, pencils etc. for school ($25)




Item Amount Balance
$1,500
$123
SNAP

Item Amount Balance
$1,500
$123
$2,800
SNAP

Item Amount Balance
$1,500
$123
$1,400
SNAP

There will also be unanticipated costs. The bottom line is that getting on stable financial footing is tough for refugees.

But you've gotten through your first three months in the U.S. and there are still many choices to come as you start a new life here. Government aid will continue for at least another eight months. That will certainly help, but there may be other hurdles to come -- you can't put a price tag on the emotional costs of being forced to flee your homeland, or worrying about friends and family left behind.

You'll have to get your child to school in a new cultural environment. There may be medical needs for treating trauma; rape and war-related psychological struggles are common. But at least you've come this far, and certainly a long way from the crowded refugee camps in Jordan.

Welcome to your new home, and your new life.