Editor: This is a guest post by Don Barnett, a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies and a resident of Tennessee.
Supporters of maintaining the status quo in refugee resettlement in Tennessee – that is, allowing the federal contractor to run the program for its own benefit without a requirement that it report refugee social services usage or accurately report the numbers resettled – often point out that refugees pay more in taxes than they consume in benefits, so why all the fuss?
The resettlement program is so little understood and secretive that the contractors can make blatantly false statements and be assured those statements will be reported as fact by the media.
As reported in The Tennessean, the contractor notes that “a 2013 report presented to the Joint Government Operations Legislative Advisory Committee determined that refugees and their descendants provided $1.4 billion in revenue for Tennessee between 1990 and 2012, compared with requiring $753 million in state support.”
The 2013 study was actually very limited and makes no such sweeping conclusion.
In assessing the cost of publicly funded benefits for refugees the study looked at just 2 programs – public education (including ELL) and Tenncare(Medicaid). It ignored a whole range of programs which Tennesseans use and fund both with Tennessee tax dollars and as federal tax payers.
Sen. Mark Norris noted that at last count 11 state funded programs were being accessed by arriving refugees.
The study assumed that refugees were using Tenncare (Medicaid) at the same rate as average Tennesseans even though up to 59% of refugees have been placed into Tenncare upon arrival in recent years.
A recent federal study found staggering welfare usage rates even among those in the country for 5 years – majority still on food stamps, 44% on Medicaid, 29 % of families with one or more members on SSI, 17% on TANF and so on.
In spite of known high welfare usage among refugees, the report assumed refugees pay state taxes at the same rate as average Tennesseans.
The study, which was supposed to have determined to what extent the feds had placed an unfunded mandate on the state of Tennessee, was hijacked by the pro-refugee lobby, i.e. the local Chamber of Commerce and refugee contractors.
The seemingly positive outcome of the study was foreordained even though 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.” And even though a complete reading of the study does not allow for any positive conclusion despite refugee industry statements.
Perhaps Tennesseans best hope is passage of senate resolution SJR467 which would allow The Thomas More Law Center to sue the federal government over refugee resettlement on 10th amendment grounds. The public services law center will take the case at no charge to the state of Tennessee. Not only might it shed light on this program, but most importantly it would clarify to what extent, if any, the federal government can force a state to use state taxes to cover unfunded costs imposed by a federal program.
The resolution has overwhelming support in both houses of the Tennessee legislature but has stirred fierce opposition from the usual suspects, including Governor Haslam.
All Tennesseans concerned with this should sign the petition included here http://keeptnsafe.com/petition/ and tell the Governor to stop trying to block the democratic process.
For our extensive Tennessee archive, click here. See here for background on what the governor is doing.
This political work on-going in Tennessee, on the question of refugee resettlement and states’ rights, is groundbreaking!