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?


That's what a family of will receive in government financial assistance.

That might be enough for a decent start, but let's see what expenses you will face over the next three months.

Airline tickets for a family of costs $. You'll have to begin repaying that after six months.


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

Do you have family already in the States?

Your New Hometown

Welcome to Hamtramck, Michigan.

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

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.


That's what three months rent will set you back.

Now you have more spending decisions to make.

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.


That the price of a $41 monthly bundle for over three months. There are many other expenses ahead. Do you want to start looking for a job?

Pressure to Get a Job

If you do not work, food assistance will help. But 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?

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?

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 was a struggle to find a job, but you start working as janitor or in landscaping -- jobs for which English is not required.

You earn the minimum wage of $8.50 per hour working as many hours as you can get.


That's how much you take home after state and federal taxes over two months in the U.S.

But you might still be eligible for more aid.

Low Wage Jobs

Speaking English helped you find work faster, but wages are still low. You earn about $11 per hour for typical jobs like home health aids and taxi drivers.


That's what you take home after state and federal taxes working full-time over two month in the U.S.

But you might still be eligible for more aid.

Food Support

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

Refugees qualify for the government's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The amount of assistance, known as an allotment, is determined by subtracting 30 percent of your net monthly income (after taxes) from the maximum SNAP allowance.

In your case, 30 percent of your net monthly income exceeds the maximum allotment of $ allowance per month for a family your size. You are ineligible for food assistance.

You were hoping to get closer to the maximum $ allowance per month for a family your size. But your income reduced your monthly assistance to $, which over two months comes to:


That's the amount of food assistance you receive over two months -- the maximum for a family your size that has no additional income.

Shopping for Groceries

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has categorized food plans at various levels -- from thrifty to high-end baskets-- that hold different types and quality of produce, dairy, breads, cereals and meats. As a refugee family, you are likely to buy food from a low-cost plan.


That's the estimated amount you will spend for groceries over three months.

See what other expenses are ahead.

Little Things that Add Up

A local charity donated a used couch, beds and mattresses, a table and a few chairs. But you still need some sundries and other neccesities.

Select all the items you think you need to survive:


That's an estimate of what you are likely to spend over three months on sundry items and other necessities.

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.

There are still unexpectated expenses ahead 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 -- a long way from the crowded refugee camps in Jordan.

Welcome to your new home, and your new life.