Refugee Resettlement Costs State of Tennessee $165 Million Annually in Unfunded Federal Mandate

Don Barnett, a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, tells Breitbart News that the federal government’s operation of the refugee resettlement program in Tennessee costs the state more than $165 million each year.

Tennessee is one of fourteen states that have withdrawn from the federal refugee resettlement program. The Obama administration continues to resettle refugees in the Volunteer State under the questionable statutory authority of the Wilson-Fish alternative program.

In April, the Tennessee General Assembly declared its intent to sue the federal government on Tenth Amendment grounds over its resettlement of refugees into the state.

The operation of the federal refugee resettlement program there, as administered by Catholic Charities of Tennessee, costs the state “at least 165 million annually” Barnett tells Breitbart News.

“And that is just for three programs,” Barnett adds.

Those three programs which force the state to pay for resettled refugees include Medicaid, public education, and ESL (English as a Second Language). Those costs include “the portion of those programs that the state must cover,” Barnett says. “This does not include the cost in federal taxes which Tennesseans pay,” he notes.

Barnett breaks down the $165 million annual costs to the state of Tennessee of these three programs this way:

1.Per a 2013 state study, refugees [participating] in TennCare (Medicaid) cost Tennessee taxpayers $25.6 million. (This does not include the federal portion of the cost, which is 3 times larger.)

But the study assumed that refugees use Tenncare at the same rate as all Tennesseans, i.e about 18.8%. A federal study has shown that even refugees here for 5 years use Medicaid at a rate of 44%. Also the study left out whole categories which are treated just like refugees when it comes to contractor compensation and rights and entitlements for individuals in the program. Groups left out include Asylum Seekers, Cuban/Haitian Entrants, Special Immigrant Visa holders (Iraqis mostly) and others.

My wildly conservative estimate for this cost is $60 million annually. That’s just the Tennessee portion of one program, Medicaid.

2. Per the same study, public education for refugees cost Tennessee local and state taxpayers $72.3 million in 2013. Again, this excludes Asylum Seekers and others. This figure today is at least $85 million, a very conservative estimate.

3. Tennessee spends about $80 million per year for ESL [English as a Second Language]. Some of this number is already included in the public education figures above. Refugees are numerically a relatively small proportion of ESL users, but they have an outsized impact because they bring new languages that Tennessee has no experience with. The cost for ESL for refugees, asylum seekers, etc. is at least $20 million annually.

Tennessee withdrew from the federal refugee resettlement program in 2008, after then-Governor Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, sent a letter of withdrawal to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, part of the Department of Health and Human Services.

In fiscal year 2015, more than 1,600 refugees were resettled in Tennessee by Catholic Charities of Tennessee, the voluntary agency (VOLAG) was selected by ORR to administer the program locally.

Many of these resettled refugees come from countries with Muslim majority populations. 332 came from Iraq, 214 from Somalia, 393 from Burma, 206 from the Congo, and 30 from Syria, according to a report provided by Catholic Charities of Tennessee.

More than 22,000 refugees were resettled in Tennessee between 1996 and 2014.

The Obama administration pays VOLAGs, many of which, like Catholic Charities, are affiliated with Christian organizations, more than $1 billion annually to administer the refugee resettlement program in states around the country.

Annual costs to the thirteen other states (Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Vermont) that have withdrawn from the refugee resettlement program, but where it is operated by VOLAGs under the Wilson-Fish alternative program, are likely proportional to those experienced by Tennessee.


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