How FEMA Distributes Moneys to Cope with the Surge of Migrants

And a related New York City scandal

By David North on September 19, 2023

The Biden administration has decided it must help localities with the harm it has imposed on them by opening the flood gates for illegal aliens (some now appearing in the guise of parolees and asylum seekers).

It has done so through an agency that has lots of experience with emergencies of various kinds, but none with international migrants, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which is part of the Department of Homeland Security. (My colleague Andrew Arthur offered some background on why FEMA is involved here.)

Instead of working through any middle-man entities, such as the states or the formerly termed “voluntary agencies” (volags), it is responding to pleas for help directly with a long series of grants to local service agencies of one kind or another.

And, like the hurriedly put-together federal financial assistance operations of the Covid era, it faces massive potential waste as seen in one New York City entity that has, understandably, stirred the interest of the New York Times.

So, while we do not have comprehensive data on these new programs, we do have two sets of clues.

First, there is a list of 86 grants made by FEMA’s “Shelter and Services Program Awards” program. This may be only a partial list of all the grants made to communities for this general purpose, but it is a useful non-random sample of them. The FEMA lists are for two tranches: tranche one was for 53 grants, and totaled $291,040,000 and the other was for 33 grants and added up to $77,308,836. The grand total was $368,343,836. (The documentation shows 88 entries, but one is a “reserve” of $10 million and another is a “total”.)

The second set of clues relates to the sole source award of $432 million to a medical services agency called DocGo by the City of New York; this is the potential scandal that caught the critical eye of the Times. Note that the total for part of the city’s program came to more than $50 million more than the total of the other 86 awards. It is not clear what the sources of money used in the New York program were; much of it may have been local. We will return to that subject later.

FEMA Grants. As to the 86, we have the name of the grantee, the state where it is active, and the amount of money granted — and that’s all. These data show what kinds of entities are being supported to help the illegal aliens and parolees, and where they operate. If the 86 are typical of the whole program, the list also shows their geographical location — as well as holes in the spread of the funds.

A typical section of the listing is shown below:

What can we tell from this listing of 86 recipients of FEMA funds? It should be borne in mind that a more thorough analysis is needed once more data are available. As we combed through these lists, we found the following.

Of the 86 awards, 16 went to Catholic agencies, 26 went to units of local and state government, and 44 of them were awarded to other entities such as food banks, United Ways, and a handful of Protestant organizations. None of the FEMA grants went to state governments that have been giving trouble to the Biden administration — no money went to the states of Florida or Texas, for instance. Awards were made in those states, particularly Texas, but not through the state governments.

Geographically, more than two-thirds of the grants, 60 out of 86, went to entities within the four southern border states: Texas got 45 of them; New Mexico, three; Arizona, six; and California, six. Four each were assigned to Colorado, Illinois, and New York; there were three to the District of Columbia, and two each to Georgia, Minnesota, and Louisiana, and single awards to Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

No awards were made in these two tranches in such likely settlement states as Ohio or Michigan, or in Washington State or Oregon. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) has suggested that at least some of these migrants should be resettled, at least temporarily, in otherwise underused military bases. None were listed among the 86.

All of these organizations appeared to be non-profits, including a ranch in Luna County, N.M., which is on the border some 40 miles west of El Paso. The county has a port of entry at Columbus. The Colores United/Mariposa Ranch received $1,502,640 for whatever it did or claimed to do.

Another unusual entity being funded was the Laredo (Texas) Fire Department, which received $5,961,992; Laredo, which is probably the poorest of our southern border cities, also received three other grants.

The entities that received $10 million or more are listed below.

NYC Office of Management and Budget Manhattan, N.Y. $104,678,007
Illinois Department of Human Services Sangamon County, Ill. $19,363,557
Catholic Charities, Diocese of San Diego San Diego County, Calif.* $15,126,396
El Paso County El Paso, Texas* $13,178,752
City of San Antonio Bexar County, Texas $13,051,737
Catholic Charities, Diocese of San Diego San Diego, County, Calif.* $12,793,700
World Hunger Ecumenical Task Force, Inc. Yuma County, Ariz.* $11,093,294
County of Riverside Riverside County, Calif. $10,769,659
City of Chicago Cook County, Ill. $10,575,801

* On the U.S./Mexico border. Sangamon County is the location of Springfield, Ill., the state’s capital.

Most of the grants were for smaller sums, many in the low hundreds of thousands.

New York Controversy. The New York Times has published three long articles since July 30 about a medical services company named DocGo, headed by a man with the unfortunate last name of Capone, which received a sole source (noncompetitive) grant for $432 million from the City of New York to help the migrants. The organization previously received funds for help with the anti-Covid programs.

In the first article, we learn that DocGo’s clients:

Lured by the promise of jobs, legal assistance and a more welcoming environment, hundreds of asylum seekers have boarded buses headed north to Albany, in search of a life better than they had found in New York City.

But once they settled in the state capital, many said they realized they had been misled and all but abandoned.

Instead of state identification cards, they were given dubious work eligibility and residency letters on what appeared to be a fake letterhead. At the bargain-rate motels where the migrants were relocated, many said they were treated like prisoners in halfway houses, living under written threats that they would be barred from seeking asylum if they were caught drinking or smoking.

A second article on August 21 deals with an investigation of DocGo by the state’s attorney general, while a third on September 6 said that New York City Comptroller Brad Lander had rejected the mayor’s contract with DocGo, “citing the company’s lack of expertise and other controversies”.

Most recently, on September 15, we see an Albany Times-Union article saying that Capone had resigned as CEO of DocGo because “Anthony Capone falsely told investors he earned a graduate degree from Clarkson University and that his background in artificial intelligence has been integral to the company's success.”

All of these officials — the mayor, the state’s attorney general, and the city’s comptroller — are Brooklyn Democrats, all elected separately to their positions and as such, all are often rivals with one another; the comptroller’s rejecting the mayor’s contract is par for the course.

The DocGo story should provide lessons to the Biden administration about the perils of distributing large sums of money too quickly in immigration-related and other programs.