Iraqi refugee family experiences resettlement irregularities in Tampa

Your tax dollars:

This is another in our long series of articles on unhappy Iraqi refugees in the United States.  In the usual format for such stories the reporter uses many column inches to explain what horrors the Iraqi family has experienced and how they looked to America as a heaven on earth.  Then the other shoe drops.

This time when the reporter turns to the ‘other shoe’ it is not your usual no jobs and lousy living conditions scenario.    The family’s resettlement sounds out of the ordinary and I wonder why.

From the St. Petersburg Times:

Last summer, after months of interviews and background checks, Hayder got a phone call. They had been cleared to go to the United States.

Hayder was elated. America, he thought, was a very civilized place. They would be safe and treated with respect there, he thought. But during cultural orientation, a Syrian refugee worker painted a bleak picture: no jobs, no help, no health insurance. Iman began to cry.

“Don’t worry,” Hayder told her. “God will protect us over there.”

In late August 2008, they landed in Tampa.

Their sponsor, an Iraqi man who has lived in the United States since the Persian Gulf War, picked them up. They settled into a room of his Lakeland home.

I’m all for “sponsors” for refugees but this didn’t sound right.  Isn’t the resettlement agency supposed to pick up the refugees at the airport and make sure they get settled into their own apartment, not just in one room in someone’s home?    This family was placed in the home of a single man who sounds like an alchoholic:

Weeks went by and the sponsor’s single lifestyle and drinking wore on Hayder and Iman. Wasn’t someone supposed to contact them, help them find an apartment, enroll Gailan in school? Iman would need a job; the family had to repay $3,500 in airfare.

Even if the resettlement agency was remiss in fulfilling its federal contract, somehow, someone made sure they knew the airfare had to be repaid (although originally paid by the taxpayer, a quarter of recovered airfare goes to the resettlement agency).  

After time passed and no one from the resettlement agency, Lutheran Services Florida, came to check on the family, apparently the family took matters into their own hands and went to the agency:

They had no car of their own, so they asked their sponsor to take them to Lutheran Services Florida in Tampa, the refugee resettlement agency. They were hopeful: They had heard the agency covered security deposits and months of rent until Iraqi families could get on their feet.

They learned quickly that this sort of help was not available.

The agency, through its federal contract, gives out $425 per person, said Rubis Castro of Lutheran Services in Tampa. In the past, private donations would supplement that stipend, but the recession has dried up that pool.

What does this mean, NOT available!  Yes, it is.   Lutheran Services Florida is required by a contract in this highly touted Public/Private partnership (LOL!)* to come up with its share.

All of our “clients” are VIP’s says a representative of Lutheran Services.  Really?

Even if the Iraqis risked their lives for U.S. troops and contract workers, as Hayder did, the settlement agency has to treat them the same, Castro said.

“We’ve got people from MacDill [Airforce base] calling saying, ‘Hey, treat them as VIPs,’ ” she said. “We always say every single client gets treated like a VIP.”  [LOL! again]

Lutheran Services did finally come up with some money, but not the furnishings its federal contract requires.    Check this out, the family had to spend $500 for furniture that Lutheran Services could have found for them through donations.

Hayder’s family received a total of $1,700 from Lutheran Services. He said he spent $500 of that to buy a sofa, television, throw rug and bunk beds from their sponsor. Last fall, they moved into an apartment of their own in Temple Terrace near Tampa.

Hayder, worried about paying the rent, went back to Lutheran Services. Was there anything more they could do?

A caseworker signed them up for food stamps, Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income so Hayder could receive disability checks. The SSI checks totaled $674 a month, but their rent was almost $800 and utility bills another $100. They were desperate for Iman to find a job.

And then this:

In the past, churches or families would sponsor Sudanese youth or Bosnian families for months if not longer, helping with rent, furniture, used cars and clothes. Just as important, they might serve as ambassadors in a new country, helping navigate a maze of confusing government bureaucracy and customs.

The reporter never tells us why that isn’t still happening.  Why isn’t Lutheran Services Florida finding churches and other private groups to help families like this Iraqi family?   I guess I will be told I hate Lutherans as I was at some previous post (I tried to find the commenter who told me I was a Lutheran-hater but couldn’t), but I think its because they are too damn busy keeping their agency going with taxpayer funded grant money for salaries etc. that they don’t have time to work hard for refugees.

*Lutheran Services Florida sued for government grant fraud!

So why am I laughing at the notion of a Public/Private Partnership?   Get this! Lutheran Services Florida was sued in 2005 by a former employee who alleged massive grant fraud at the NON-PROFIT church group.     Read the whole sorry tale here.

TAMPA – When it comes to statewide charities, it’s hard to beat the numbers for Lutheran Services Florida. A large nonprofit agency, it has served 700,000 people since its inception 23 years ago. With 60 social service programs under its management, Lutheran Services reported about $29-million in total revenue last year.

But now a former top executive claims Lutheran Services’ numbers don’t add up.

In a lawsuit filed last week, Dr. Peter Ledecky, the agency’s former vice president of program services, alleged that Lutheran Services has for years been mismanaging millions in government grants for its programs.

Filed in Hillsborough Circuit Court Sept. 7, the complaint accuses the agency of firing Ledecky in retaliation for blowing the whistle about what he contends are accounting improprieties at Lutheran Services that violated state and federal law.

“He realized that the administration of the grants was a giant mess, that they just basically wanted him to smooth things over and cover things up,” said Ledecky’s attorney, Ryan Christopher Rodems. “He said he couldn’t do that, and they pushed him out the door.”

I have no clue what happened with the lawsuit, but apparently it was settled or swept under the rug somehow because checking Lutheran Services Florida Form 990’s I note that in tax year 2006-2007 they were still getting an astounding amount of taxpayer grants.   Income reported that year was $32 million and $28 million of that comes from government grants leaving only $4 million from private donations.   This is outrageous, there is virtually no private funding in the Public/Private Partnership!   Only12.5% of their funds are privately raised!  Where is that ACLU when you need them?  Separation of church and state, my foot!

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