Editor: From time to time we post guest commentary. This is from Joanne Bregman. As we refocus our efforts at the state and local level, because we can’t count on Washington, this is an effective argument for you to make on the state level.
This is about States’ rights!
(emphasis below is mine)
Federal Cost Shifting of the Refugee Resettlement Program
In 1980 the federal government formalized the refugee resettlement program by passing the Refugee Act of 1980. There was no mandate to force states to participate in this program. Federal appropriations to provide for medical and cash assistance for newly resettled refugees, was authorized for 36 months. Refugees were and still are, first required to use state Medicaid programs if they are eligible, before federal medical assistance funds are used.
When the federal law was passed, it provided that for each refugee brought to a state by a federal contractor, states would be reimbursed 100% for three full years, the state incurred cost of providing Medicaid and cash welfare. The law also provided, that for refugees who did not meet eligibility criteria for state Medicaid and cash welfare programs, they could instead, receive a federal subsidy – Refugee Medical Assistance (RMA) and Refugee Cash Assistance (RCA) for 36 months.
By 1991, even though the number of refugees being resettled was not decreasing, the federal government eliminated reimbursement to states for the state cost of resettling and supporting refugees with Medicaid and cash welfare.
In addition, the federal government reduced the RCA and RMA subsidy from 36 months to 8 months for refugees who do not qualify for state funded programs. States have no other choice but to assume the greater share of the voluntary federal program’s costs.
The U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement told Congress early on in the program that the reason states were no longer being reimbursed for the state’s costs was because Congress didn’t appropriate enough money.
The 1981 Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy convened by Congress also documented that even the initial 3 years of 100% reimbursement to states, was not sufficient to “minimize the impact of refugees on community services.” The Commission was specifically referring to schools, hospitals and community support services.
In 1990, the U.S. General Accounting Office documented that the reduction in reimbursement to states for the federal refugee resettlement program, “costs for cash and medical assistance have shifted to state and local governments.” The National Governors Association has also questioned the federal cost shifting, stating that “[t]hese reductions represent a major federal policy change that shifts fiscal responsibility for meeting the basic needs of refugees from the federal government to states and localities.”
As the resettlement industry has grown, so has the cost to both federal and state governments but only the federal government controls its costs by appropriating annually “as available” while each state’s cost is driven by how much of the federal cost Congress chooses not to pay.
Be sure to see my post from earlier this past week about what you need to do on a state and local level, here.