Tennessee legislators want answers about fiscal impact of refugee resettlement

This is a report from Bobbie Patray of the Tennessee Eagle Forum about the first meeting of a select committee of the Tennessee legislature to address  the 10th Amendment of the Constitution and the encroachment by the federal government on states’ rights in regards to the resettlement of migrants in the state by Catholic Charities (through the US State Department).

Holly Johnson, Catholic Charities TN, with her Idaho counterpart at 2010 Refugee meeting. In Tennessee, Catholic Charities calls the shots on resettlement.

See our earlier coverage here.  (You will find links there for reports from The Tennessean and Nashville Public Radio.)


It was an exciting day to be at Legislative Plaza and see history being made yesterday.  The first official meeting of the Joint Legislative Advisory Committee was convened. This creation of and mission of this committee grew out of the increasing concern of both legislators and grassroots activists about the ongoing encroachment of the federal government on the constitutional rights of the sovereign states.

Members of the committee are: Rep. Judd Matheny, Chairman, Rep. John Ragan, Rep. Joe Carr, Rep. Josh Evans, Rep. Mike Turner, Sen. Mike Bell, Sen. Janice Bowling, Sen. Ferrell Haile, Sen. Thelma Harper, Sen. Jim Summerville.  All members were present except Sen. Harper.

There was enough interest in this important issue that other legislators attended: Rep. Jeremy Faison, Rep. G.A. Hardaway, Rep. David Alexander, Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, Rep. Shelia Butt, Sen. Mark Green, M.D., Sen. Frank Niceley.

It was that concern that drove the motive for taking up the first issue of this committee:  The Federal Cost Shifting of the Refugee Resettlement program.

As one article stated: “A newly-created legislative committee met for the first time Wednesday to investigate the indirect fiscal impact of refugee resettlements. They were given an unsatisfying answer: no one is keeping track.”

That is the problem.   Each year, lawmakers are responsible for passing a budget and certainly have a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayer to know where these dollars are going.  Except….in this case…they don’t!!!

Chairman Judd Matheny CLEARLY laid out the parameters of the discussion:  It was ONLY about the COST SHIFTING to the states.  It was NOT about the value of the refugee resettlement program, it was NOT about what the refugees bring to this state, it was NOT about the work that the providers or participants do.

It is not just Tennessee lawmakers that  have these concerns.  Two years ago, the National Governors Association stated: “The federal government’s unwillingness to provide adequate funding for costs attributable to migration and resettlement services has resulted in a dramatic shift of program costs from the federal government to state and local taxpayers.”

The first speaker, Kasar Abdulla,  started telling her personal story, which, of course, was compelling. However, as was stated earlier, the value of the program was NOT the subject of the hearing.  Chairman Matheny asked her a couple of time to please stick to the topic, but she did not and, in fact, clearly was not prepared to do that.  So the Chairman called for the next speaker, Holly Johnson, State Refugee Coordinator, Tennessee Office for Refugees, Catholic Charities of TN, Inc.  After Miss Johnson spoke, Don Barnett and Joanne Bregman, Esq.  addressed the committee.  Bregman’s testimony was incredible as she revealed the cold, hard facts and figures.  The last speaker  Stephen Fotopulos, with the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition was totally out of line with his testimony.

Just as a snapshot, Sen. Mark Green, M.D., observed that using the two numbers provided in the testimonies, the refugee program would be costing TennCare between $7.2million  and $12.1million over a four year period.  This is the kind of information that is desperately needed for budget purposes and that we have not been able to get hard figures on.  The committee passed a motion to ask the Fiscal Review Committee to do a comprehensive study of all aspects of this program with emphasis on any cost shifting, expenses incurred, what enabling legislation they are acting under, including a proportionality of refugees coming to TN versus other states to present at the November 12 meeting.

Click here to watch the proceedings.  For more on Tennessee and refugees, click here.

Photo is from this story about a Wilson-Fish (Office of Refugee Resettlement) meeting in Washington, here.  When you click that W-F link you can see if your state refugee program is now being run by a non-governmental agency.

Oops!  Depending on your screen size, in an earlier version of this post, the TEF logo blocks Johnson’s face… should have checked that first!

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