Editor: This is another copy of testimony submitted in response to my offer to post testimony that readers have sent, or are sending, to the US State Department before May 19th. Your testimony can be long or short, more detailed or less so. Just send something! And, then be sure to copy it to your elected officials.
Joanne’s testimony may serve as a definitive document on everything that has gone wrong, and continues to go wrong, with the Refugee Admissions Program.
States should have final control over resettlement activities within their state borders
April 26, 2016
Ms. Anne Richard
Asst. Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration
US State Department
Re: FR 2016-09267
Dear Ms. Richard,
These are my written comments regarding FY 2017 U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. I know that in past years, no public hearing was held and that submitted comments were also not made public. That seems to be in keeping with how this program operates overall – without transparency despite your comments to the contrary.
If ever there was a federal program that should be required to appear in public to answer questions and justify any funding, it is the one you oversee. The federal refugee resettlement program has increasingly operated without sufficient public scrutiny or meaningful input from all stakeholders, but with plenty of ham-handed federal bureaucracy.
As defined by the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement’s report to Congress resettlement stakeholders include: resettlement agencies, state refugee coordinators, refugee health coordinators, ethnic community-based organizations and ORR technical assistance providers. How can it be that the taxpayers in the receiving communities are not considered relevant stakeholders in this process? It would seem that now, more than ever, that ORR must stop excluding residents of local communities from being recognized as having a very real stake in this program and the process.
The federal contractors’ proposed resettlement numbers are never made public prior to acceptance and award of federal funds. The very communities that are directly impacted are not considered stakeholders nor offered any opportunity prior to award for meaningful input into these decisions. This past year I spent a considerable amount of time and effort using FOIA and was still unable to have last year’s resettlement proposals disclosed.
This information should not be subject to FOIA. In fact, the information should be posted on the State Department’s website prior to acceptance and award of federal funds. There is nothing proprietary about how many people a federal contractor plans to bring to a community. Treating this information as “behind closed doors secrets” strongly suggests that the information is withheld from the public because of concern about community resistance to the federal government’s plans.
Years ago I served as a volunteer with a resettlement agency. Over time I have watched this program be transformed into an industry for government contractors with little to no oversight, transparency or accountability to taxpayers. The Cooperative Agreement which VOLAGs execute requiring that federal funds only “augment” privately raised funds is simply ignored. For example, the 2014 USCCB financial report shows that $80 million was taxpayer money with another $10 million in administrative fees. That funding was the predominant source of the USCCB money despite the provisions in the Cooperative Agreement they have signed with the State Department.
What do you say about that? Are you just ignoring the agreement or just simply changing the wording?
Nor is the USCCB the exception among the nationally contracted VOLAGs.
Federal grants like the “Refugee Home Based Childcare Microenterprise Development Project” suggest that rather than using even more government funding to employ women in home-based childcare enclaves, the money would be better spent if at all, putting these children and mothers into existing community-based childcare settings where they would be exposed to English and American norms.
While federally funded Ethnic Community Self-Help organizations and Mutual Assistance Associations are made to sound like good ideas, in reality they are yet one more avenue to funnel public dollars to refugee based organizations that use public dollars to claim refugee employment. Rather than assist refugees to integrate or even marginally, assimilate into their new communities, these organizations are designed to “ensur[e] that their charges retain strong ethnic and homeland ties.”
The increased per capita funding structure incentivizes resettlement contractors to increase their numbers regardless of whether it results in a lower standard of services provided to refugees. The 2012 GAO report “Greater Consultation with Community Stakeholders Could Strengthen Program” validates this position:
“Because refugees are generally placed in communities where national voluntary agency affiliates have been successful in resettling refugees, the same communities are often asked to absorb refugees year after year. One state refugee coordinator noted that local affiliate funding is based on the number of refugees they serve, so affiliates have an incentive to maintain or increase the number of refugees they resettle each year rather than allowing the number to decrease.”
Any attempt at objective discourse about how contractor resettlement business impacts the community in which they operate, is met with disdain. Local affiliate offices do not hesitate to publicly denigrate any taxpayer who raises legitimate questions about the functionality and cost of the program. Propaganda films like “Welcome to Shelbyville” and the “Refugee Resettlement 101” now being offered by local affiliates across the country, are used to mislead the public and suggest that anyone who questions what is occurring within the resettlement industry, is at best, just “unwelcoming,” racist and bigoted.
I suggest to you that the time has come to stop calling names and start answering honestly, if you are able, the very legitimate questions that are being raised. People are rightfully alarmed about increasing information that has exposed the fiction otherwise called “vetting.” The 18-24 month standard reply has now been debunked with the news that the administration is accelerating “vetting” to 90 days, an arbitrary timeline at best. Even more concerning, is the news about looking at “alternative safe pathways” that would bypass the resettlement protocols currently in place in order to meet the President’s artificially established Syrian numbers.
States should have final control over resettlement activities within their state borders
Since states incur the on-going, long-term cost associated with refugees, states should have complete control over resettlement activities within their borders.
The 1981 Select Commission on Immigration & Refugee Policy (“Select Commission”), repeatedly addressed the financial impact on receiving communities. “Many state and local officials are concerned that the costs of resettlement assistance will continue beyond the period of federal reimbursement and that the burden of providing services will then fall upon their governments.”
The Select Commission seemed to well understand the fiscal issue for a federal program where the long-term costs would be passed to state and local governments. “Areas with high concentrations of refugees are adversely affected by increased pressures on schools, hospitals and other community services. Although the federal government provides 100 percent reimbursement for cash and medical assistance for three years, it does not provide sufficient aid to minimize the impact of refugees on community services.”
In 1982, just two years after the 1980 Refugee Act was passed, reduction in federal support started with federal cash and medical assistance reduced to 18 months. In 1988 it was reduced again to 12 months and again in 1991 to 8 months, which remains the current level. In 1986, the federal government began to reduce reimbursement to states for the state-funded portion of welfare, Medicaid and SSI, eliminating it altogether by 1991 and shifting these additional costs to the states.
The cost shift has been openly and repeatedly acknowledged by the federal government. And yet, these increasing costs are never acknowledged when calculating the true dollar cost of the program. The 2010 Senate hearing started to identify the significant costs states are forced to incur because of the federal program.
The U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement places such a high premium on shifting refugee healthcare costs to states, that even the ORR Voluntary Agencies Matching Grant Program Guidelines on page 9 states that: “ORR recognizes that weekly cash payments may make certain MG cases ineligible for the USDA Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Medicaid. Thus, local Matching Grant Program service providers may give some of the weekly allowance in the form of vouchers if such a form of payment is in the overall best interest of the client and he/she concurs.”
In other words, circumvent the program’s rules to shift more cost to the state taxpayer. State governments that decided to expand their Medicaid programs probably did not anticipate that the Department of Health and Human Services briefing on “Key Indicators for Refugee Placement” would so quickly advise considering Medicaid expansion when deciding refugee placements.
With regard to states that have withdrawn from the resettlement program, the federal government does not have the legislative authority to assign an NGO to continue the program in that state. This unconstitutional encroachment on the 10th amendment right of states is barred both by law and U.S. Supreme Court decisions and must cease.
“Self-sufficiency” terminology should be replaced with specific reporting on public assistance utilization, temporary v non-temporary employment and the number of refugees resettled each year who are considered to be “unemployable”
Despite documentation of high percentages of Medicaid and food stamp utilization, high “self-sufficiency” rates are reported by the refugee resettlement contractors. It is misleading to describe anyone, including refugees, as self-sufficient when they also receive publicly funded assistance in the form of food stamps, Medicaid and public housing. And still federal contractors are able to report high self-sufficiency rates for refugees as long as they do not receive cash welfare.
A past January post on the “Friends of Refugees” blog posted the following about Bridge’s Knoxville resettlement operations: “A former case manager also sent us information about the agency and pointed out that the refugee employment figures are dishonest as most of the refugees have only temporary employment that does not help them to pay rent and be self-sufficient. The nature of the temp jobs also means that the refugees will be unemployed just a short time after the agency reports them employed to the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) at 90 days and 180 days. (This, however, is a problem throughout the refugee program, and it doesn’t seem that the the ORR has much of an interest in requiring that resettlement agencies report if refugees are working at temporary or non-temporary jobs.)”
Public health issues should be resolved before funding more initial resettlement
TB among resettled populations has been a particular public health concern. It was reported in 2009 that the sharp increase in Minnesota’s active TB cases was tied to refugee resettlement. Because latent TB is not a bar to refugee admission, health officials have expressed concern about cases of drug-resistant TB being documented in communities with high refugee resettlement.
In 2012 the CDC reported that TB in “foreign-born persons increased to 63% of the national case total,” a percentage that has risen steadily since 1993.
More recently it was reported that “immigrants and those who travel to other countries frequently have the highest TB occurrence,” and that “many of these cases–approximately 450,000–are the drug-resistant form of TB that has developed from improper medication usage and medical protocols.”
In April, 2012, the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement circulated a grant announcement titled “Strengthening Surveillance for Diseases Among Newly-Arrived Immigrants and Refugees” since it appears that there is no comprehensive tracking of this particular segment of public health concerns. More government money to throw at a government created problem.
Reports of depression and PTSD are now being reported as reasons that some refugees are unable to work. Among Bhutanese refugees that are being resettled, the CDC has documented a troubling statistic; a suicide rate higher than the national and global average. One explanation offered has been the lack of jobs and the resulting stress of unemployment not matching expectations of life in the U.S.
Public funds are spent, hearings are held, reports are published and yet, nothing is done proactively to respond to the problems and issues that are highlighted.
The federal agencies involved in refugee resettlement have enabled the growth of an industry layered with ever multiplying federal grants but extraordinarily lax on transparency and accountability. Currently, the U.S. refugee resettlement program is administered in derogation of a state’s right to withdraw from the federal program and a state’s right to set state level funding prerogatives.
Proposed resettlement plans should be made publicly available before any award of funding and be subject to public comments and public hearings.
Rather than compounding the problems already identified, it may be time to temporarily suspend the resettlement program and focus on the health and employment needs of refugees already here. At the same time, your agency must cease denying the information and positions of every national intelligence agency that has highlighted the very real security concerns regarding the resettlement of refugees.
I am also requesting that this year, in the interest of transparency, that a copy of the entire written record is timely made available to the public.
Testimony to the US State Department for FY2017 is filed in a new category: Testimony for 5/19/2016 State Dept. citizen input.