Editor: From time to time we post guest columns and other notable comments from readers. This one is from someone who knows the US Refugee Admissions Program better than anyone else on the outside (LOL! maybe better than some on the inside!).
Don Barnett has been following the refugee industry for over 25 years and is a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies. I’m happy to call him a longtime colleague and friend.
Below, Mr. Barnett addresses some of the ridiculous ‘studies’ being promoted around the US which posit that resettling impoverished third worlders will bring economic boom times to states losing population, or that refugee-run ‘businesses’ can rescue financially strapped cities.
The refugee resettlement program is perhaps the federal government’s most advanced case of politicized, Orwellian speech.
Are refugees too dependent on government hand-outs? Simply re-define the term “self-sufficiency” so that those dependent on government hand-outs are declared officially “self-sufficient”. According to the feds, a refugee can be on every welfare program except TANF and still be considered “self-sufficient”. Thus the media dutifully report the absurd claims of the refugee contractors about refugee “self-sufficiency” for individuals who may be in public housing, receiving Food Stamps, cash assistance from SSI and on Medicaid.
So much ignorance abounds that a “task force” recently formed to study the possibility of introducing refugee resettlement in Wyoming allowed itself to be assured by U. of Wyoming College of professor and immigration law specialist, Noah Novogrodsky, that the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees ‘pay 100 percent of the costs of refugee resettlement for many years. It’s not like we’re going to get stuck with an unfunded mandate’.
Of course it is a massive unfunded obligation placed upon states and localities by a federal program. Most refugees are placed into one or more public assistance programs by the refugee resettlement contractors. In recent weeks Congressional Research Services provided data about welfare usage among refugees. Among refugees who had arrived in a recent 5-year period, 56 percent were receiving Medicaid or Refugee Medical Assistance, 74.2 percent were on food stamps, and 22.8 percent were in public housing. 47.1 percent were on some form of cash assistance. (1)
State tax payers fund a portion of some federal programs such as Medicaid. When the 1980 act was passed the federal government promised to reimburse states for their cost share of refugee usage of SSI, AFDC (today TANF) and Medicaid at 100% for 3 full years. Even 3 years of coverage was acknowledged to be inadequate, but was better than nothing. By 1991 the states were getting nothing: all reimbursements for state refugee costs were eliminated.
Newspeak and Newthought permeate the cottage industry of studies “proving” the net positive economic benefits of refugee resettlement. A look at 2 past studies shows just how willing the media is to be spoon fed information rather than seeking, finding and questioning.
According to Tennessee’s state refugee coordinator – an employee of Catholic Charities, the state’s largest refugee resettlement contractor – a “comprehensive” study by the Tennessee legislature “found …that refugees pay more in taxes than they consume in benefits — in fact, twice as much.”
The 2013 study made no such finding. In assessing the cost of publicly funded benefits for refugees, the study looked at just 2 programs – public education (including ELL) and Tenncare (Tennessee’s version of Medicaid). It ignored a whole range of programs which refugees use and which Tennessee tax payers fund both with state tax dollars and as federal tax payers.
The study assumed that refugees were using Medicaid at the same rate as average Tennesseans even though up to 59% of refugees have been placed into Medicaid upon arrival in recent years.
Also, the report assumed refugees pay state taxes at the same rate as average Tennesseans while federal studies find very high usage of welfare, high unemployment and low wages among those refugees with jobs.
The study authors themselves concluded “The information necessary to complete a comprehensive study on the possible cost shifting from the federal government to the state for the resettlement of refugees is not available.” Nevertheless, The Tennessean and other media reported more or less as fact the “take away” that refugees bring in twice as much in taxes as they use in benefits.
The study’s outcome – more accurately, lack of outcome – was likely foreordained by a Chamber of Commerce/left wing coalition that had hijacked other supposedly objective fiscal reviews of state operations.
Another study of refugee economic impact sponsored by an amorphous, shape-shifting Chamber of Commerce/left wing coalition calling itself The Refugee Services Collaborative of Cleveland got more traction than the embarrassing Tennessee study. It found, according to an article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, that “Three resettlement agencies spend about $4.8 million a year helping refugees to start new lives in the Cleveland area. From that investment of mostly federal dollars comes an annual economic impact of nearly $50 million.”
Now the tax dollars invested are paying back 10 to 1!
The study looked at 3 areas where refugees make an economic contribution in the Cleveland area: refugee service organizations, refugee-owned businesses and household spending of refugee families.
Speaking of refugee service organizations, the study notes that the “preponderance of funding for these organizations is derived from federal sources”. That is not a negative finding for the authors of the study; after all it still represents a net inflow of money into the Cleveland area and employment for 95. I assume most of the employees are refugees or immigrants, but the study does not say. An interesting question for a study is why an area which in the year of the study resettled 598 refugees and resettled less than 400 per year in the previous 12 years needs 95 federal taxpayer funded employees focused exclusively on serving refugees.
The next category of economic contribution comes from refugee-owned businesses of which the study reports: “The Chmura survey indicated that over the last ten years, at least 38 businesses were started by refugees in the Cleveland area with a total of 141 employees (including owners). In addition, it is estimated that almost all of those employed by refugee-owned businesses are refugees themselves. Though the survey did not gather information of the types of businesses that were started, estimates were made based upon studies conducted elsewhere. The assumed mix of industries for the refugee-owned businesses includes the following: restaurants, retail, health and beauty, transportation and automotive services, and child care.” (my emphasis)
In other words, over a period of 10 years just 141 refugees found employment in 38 refugee-started businesses – average size less than 4 employees. The job-creation miracle yielded 141 jobs for the 4,000 or so who were resettled in the area at that time. And we have no idea what the businesses are – foodcarts, in-home day care centers, one man and a lawn mower, consultants on how to work the system? It is more than amazing that having located and counted all the businesses opened by refugees they didn’t ask “oh, by the way, just what does your business do?”
The third category of economic vitality is household spending of refugee families.
Offering no real supporting evidence the study assumes Cleveland area refugees use welfare at less than the national average for refugees. (See above for an idea of welfare usage for refugees nationally.) It doesn’t matter anyway: a dollar provided by the federal taxpayer via a welfare program is a net plus in this study as it is assumed that this dollar will be spent in a Cleveland business.
The study is filled with findings such as “refugee services will purchase goods and services from other local businesses to support their organizations” and there are “benefits to local consumer-oriented businesses (such as retail and restaurants) that make sales to workers of the refugee services”.
Remember “refugee services” purchase goods and pay salaries with federal taxpayer dollars. But the dollars keep going round and round with positive ‘direct impacts’, ‘indirect impact’ and ‘induced impacts’. (No mention is made that some of these dollars are going directly back to the home country.)
The fog of ignorance and misinformation around this program is largely thanks to the inattention, if not active collusion of the media.
The facts are out there if the media would but investigate and report them. Until that happens we will ever be in the twilight zone when it comes to this topic.
Readers and members of the media (who truly want to get the facts) may reach Barnett at this e-mail address:
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