Atlanta — Increased federal assistance to Florida for handling the massive -- and rapidly growing -- influx of Cuban refugees: 1. May not be enough to meet the long-range resettlement costs for the continuing waves of refugees. An estimated 20,000 had arrived by midweek, with US officials unable to get any clear idea of how many may ultimately come ashore. Some 3,600 arrived in a 24-hour period earlier this week.
2. Was too slow in coming. Florida Gov. Robert Graham, as well as other state and local officials, has complained that federal government slowness in helping has compounded problems in receiving the refugees there.
Airlifts from Key West to a "tent city" at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida's panhandle have somewhat relieved seriously overcrowded facilities in the Miami area. But now facilities at the Air Force base are themselves becoming overcrowded.
One local group here in Atlanta is seeking sponsors for refugee families. This may signal what could become a more organized national effort to settle refugees -- at least temporarily -- in various cities outside Florida.
Clearly it is Cuban President Fidel Castro, and not Presidnet Carter, who is calling the shots on the influx of refugees to the US by allowing the massive numbers to leave his country.
President Carter's positions have simply been responses to accept some 3,500 refugees from the Peruvian Embassy compound in Havana, then threatened boat owners with fines for bringing in undocumented Cubans, and finally made a statement May 5 about welcoming the refugees with "an open heart and open arms."
Some 1,400 federal employees were in Florida as of Wednesday working on refugee assistance. That number "could double," says a federal relief official. A second "tent city" was started Tuesday at a military base near Miami and a third one is being prepared, he added.
But for the moment, things are "pretty bad" in the Miami area, where most of the refugees are, says Aida Levitan, Latin affairs director of Dade Metropolitan government. There is an immediate and increasing need for help in sending new arrivals to some 10,000 homes and jobs located across the United States by Catholic Charities, she says. Some $2 million has been raised by Spanish-speaking groups across the country to help in the resettlement, but there are not enough volunteers to administer the funds.
Most of the refugees have temporary shelter, some in warehouses and 730 in hallways of the Orange Bowl. But many feel "completely disoriented" and need someone to assure them of their future, says director Levitan.
Governor Graham's chief of the Bureau of Disaster Preparedness, Bob wilkerson , is concerned about long-range resettlement costs. The current federal emergency assistance covers only temporary needs, he says. But not far ahead lie costly problems of permanent resettlement, employment, and job training, he explains.