Clark County officials talk in DC about needs with growing Haitian population

Schools and English lessons are among areas where help is needed, Rittenhouse says.

Clark County Commissioner Sasha Rittenhouse and other county officials met with Capitol Hill representatives last week to discuss the needs posed by the area’s growing Haitian population, and talked about other projects and opportunities.

Rittenhouse, Ethan Harris, director of community development, and J. Alex Dietz, deputy director of development, visited the nation’s capital as part of the Dayton Development Coalition’s annual fly-in, also scheduling visits with the offices of lawmakers during the trip. Rittenhouse said the county had conversations with the offices of Rep. Mike Carey, Sen. Sherrod Brown, Sen. JD Vance and Rep. Mike Turner.

Area leaders have estimated there are 10,000 or more Haitian immigrants living in the region, with a large increase over the last three to five years. This has put a strain on multiple areas, including social services, the Springfield City School District and English as a second language courses, Rittenhouse said.

“This is something that we need help with. The federal government has allowed them to come into our country; most of them are here legally,” Rittenhouse said. “We need help administering these programs and getting them comfortable in our culture.”

Rittenhouse said it would really help to receive some form of financial assistance from the federal government for these needs. This includes for the Clark County Department of Job and Family Services, which she said has seen a large increase in cases but no additional funding.

ESL classes are particularly important in order to assist immigrants in obtaining employment and to adapt to U.S. culture, Rittenhouse said. There is also a need for translators and interpreters.

Rittenhouse said the purpose of the meetings was to continue bringing the situation to the attention of those on Capitol Hill, with lawmakers keeping Springfield and Clark County in mind when they are working on funding, grants and other forms of assistance.

Springfield Mayor Rob Rue, city manager Bryan Heck and public safety and operations Jason Via met with officials from U.S. Department of Homeland Security, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services and the U.S. Department of Labor in D.C. last month to have similar discussions.

Rue said in April that SCS sees about 40 new students per week, with a cost of about $11,000 per student.

Rittenhouse said she is pleased the situation is being discussed and worked on at both the city and county level, and she felt heard in her meetings. She said there is now an open line of communication between the county and the federal government on this topic.

Locally, Rittenhouse and commissioner Melanie Flax Wilt recently met with staff of a new Haitian community center, having discussions about the needs of the Haitian immigrant community and working to establish a bridge between it and the county.

Harris said making Clark County known at multiple levels of government is a positive thing.

“I just think the more we get Clark County’s name out there in any way, shape or form, whether it be in D.C., or Columbus or at a local level, it’s good for Clark County,” Harris said.

The annual DDC Fly-In invites attendees to interact with the federal government to help lawmakers understand the needs of the local community, promote economic development and more.

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