A road sign in Colorado
The new program will place asylum seekers for up to six months, provide job training, and more. The pivot follows failed attempts at getting federal aid. Unsplash.com/Josh Rinard

In a major shift in the handling of the migrant crisis, Denver Mayor Mike Johnston announced an extension of support to newcomers in the city.

The new program will place asylum seekers in apartments for up to six months, provide job and skill training, opportunities to get certifications and unpaid work experience, food assistance and help with asylum applications. The pivot follows failed attempts by the mayor to get federal aid.

"In Denver, we believe that the way to solve these problems is not by turning our back on our American values, but by turning to our American values," said Johnston.

In efforts to see this program into fruition, the mayor also announced plans of budget cuts. Johnston estimated that the new program, along with other migrant response spending, will cost about $90 million this year. The sources to cover $44 million of that have already been identified.

The remaining amount would be made up from a package of cuts the administration plans to bring to the City Council for consideration this month. That includes an outlined $5.3 million worth of cuts to the Denver Police Department. That number represents the police budget to fill vacant positions, The Denver Post reports.

But nevertheless, the mayor says, the budget cut will not have an impact on the number of officers already in the streets. Instead, the city will delay investments such as furniture purchases and new police department buildings.

"We may be working on lateral hires for officers who could come in to be able to fill positions, as well through a lateral recruit class," the mayor said. "So no change in officers that are deployed to the street, no changes in our plan on recruiting, and no changes in public facing services."

The shift comes as the flow of migrants on buses into Denver has slowed down in recent months, according to The Denver Post. The mayor also assured that the new approach will drive down the projected city budget shortfall in 2024 to just half of what was once estimated.

Additionally, the new program presents a sharp departure from ones in other cities facing similar challenges such as Chicago and New York.

Chicago, for instance, enacted a 60-day limit on shelter stays in mid-March, with some exceptions, including for families with children in school.

New York, on the other hand, is only guaranteeing most adult migrants 30 days in the city's shelter system, while same younger adults and families with children can get 60 days. However, the latter groups can get a new placement when their 60 days run out, letting them stay in shelters as long as they need to.

The pivot also comes after failed requests to the federal government for more financial aid. Denver and other Democratic-led cities had asked the Biden administration for help in dealing with the current crisis. The President then asked Congress for $1.4 billion in funding for the effort as part of his budget. But Congress allocated none and cut the Federal Emergency Management Agency;s Shelter and Services Program by $150 million, AP News reports.

Denver, overall, has spent more than $68 million supporting the more than 40,000 migrants who arrived in the city since December 2022.

Now, as the city seeks to cut spending, the program will be made possible by people offering up their apartments, rental assistance that doesn't require U.S. citizenships, and nonprofit partnerships providing debit cards for food to cook at home.

"The reason why we're so excited about this outcome today is this is a plan that is going to better serve migrants who arrive in the city," Johnston said. It will enable migrants "to support themselves and to support industries that have open jobs."

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