The Progress of Refugees: How are we doing?

By Don Barnett, June 29, 2011

By all accounts refugees are mostly “self-sufficient” within 8 months.

In fact, Tennessee’s State Refugee Coordinator recently testified before a state legislative committee that 95% of refugees in Tennessee are “self-sufficient” within 8 months. That is a stunning achievement considering that one way to interpret America’s current debt crisis is to say that the average American is not self-sufficient.

“Self-sufficiency” is the most important metric used to measure success of the refugee program and is considered when determining the allocation of grant money.

According to Ron Munia, director of the Division of Community Development, Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) at the Department of Health and Human Services, refugees are “self-sufficient” who are “earning sufficient income to meet their basic living expenses without accessing public cash assistance”.

That means refugees can be “self-sufficient” and still be beneficiaries of:

  • Medicaid
  • Food Stamps
  • Public Housing
  • Administration on Developmental Disabilities (ADD) direct services
  • Child Care and Development Fund Programs
  • the Independent Living Program
  • Job Opportunities for Low Income Individuals (JOLI)
  • Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
  • Postsecondary Education Loans and Grants
  • Various Refugee Assistance Programs
  • Title IV Foster Care and Adoption Assistance Payments (if parents are qualified immigrants—refugees, asylees, etc.)
  • Title XX Social Services Block Grant Funds

But it is actually worse than that.

According to ORR documents (“Refugee Economic Self-sufficiency: An Exploratory Study of Approaches used in ORR Programs”, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, U.S. DHHS), “self-sufficiency in ORR’s program is defined in federal regulations as ‘earning a total family income at a level that enables a family unit to support itself without receipt of a cash assistance grant’ (CFR 45 400.2).” The operative term is “grant”.

Cash assistance programs such as TANF, SSI and state General Assistance programs are not considered grants.

I contacted a senior officer at an affiliate of the VOLAG Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service who asked to remain anonymous. Sure enough, receipt of cash from SSI or TANF does not prevent them from listing a refugee under the “self-sufficient” column.

Clearly, refugees are listed as “self-sufficient” who are not self-sufficient by any stretch of the term.

Instead of dutifully repeating the claims of the refugee industry, the media should be examining the basis of those claims.