Editor: From time to time we post guest opinion pieces and comments worth noting. This is another from Bob Enos of Willmar, Minnesota (home of Jenny-O turkeys!). Here he is reacting to a pronouncement by the state legislature that it simply cannot calculate the cost of refugees to the taxpayer.
Of course, since the state’s auditors contend that the numbers simply are not available, then conversely that means that every economic study from the likes of ‘Welcoming America,‘ Global Detroit! (and Lutheran Social Services of MN and Arrive Ministries MN) which claim immigrants and refugees bring economic prosperity to small towns and dying cities can’t possibly make that conclusion. Data on the true costs are not available says the Minnesota legislature.
Here is Mr. Enos:
On March 10, 2017, the Saint Cloud Times (Minnesota) newspaper – a Gannett Media publication – reported, “Refugee costs are difficult to gather, report says”. The story was published in the aftermath of Saint Cloud city council member Jeff Johnson’s spirited but vain attempt to gather support for a study of refugee resettlement’s economic impact on his city and county.
Of course, whether the costs are difficult to gather or not evades the issue. Furthermore, it is but part of a larger question:
Are refugees a net gain to their communities?
In anticipation of the April 15 tax filing deadline, the following comes from a “pro forma” federal tax return for the fictitious Mr. and Mrs. Ahmed Mohammed.
What we know of the Mohammed family’s likely financial scenario comes from several sources: the US Office of Refugee Resettlement, the MN Department of Employment and Economic Development, the MN State Demographic Center, the MN State Refugee Resettlement plan, the World Health Organizations, and probably a few more sources rattling around in my head.
Here’s the Mohammed family profile.
Two parents are raising seven minor children in a nuclear family. One parent likely works in meatpacking, earning a maximum of $12 per hour for a 30-hour work week – just two hours shy of full-time employment, absolving the meatpacker of a health insurance obligation. The other parent is home (with seven children, someone has to stay home!), consistent with the 40-50% unemployment rate reported by several public and private sources.
Consequently, the family’s total wage income is $18,720. With exemptions and deductions totaling $49,150, there is ZERO tax liability. Stated another way, the family’s income would have to increase 145% – to $49,500 – for the family to begin having any federal tax liability at all.
What’s more, the Mohammed’s are income-eligible for the “earned income tax credit”, entitling the Mohammed’s to receive an IRS “rebate” of $6,318.
So much for the refugee family which earns its keep.
Now that we have confirmed the Mohammed’s tax status, let’s turn to the additional burdens placed upon taxpayers; the burdens that the MN Office of the Legislative Auditor finds inordinately complex.
The income threshold for poverty guidelines in Minnesota for a family of nine is about $45,900 annually; consistent with the income required for the Mohammed family to reach tax liability. The Mohammed’s income is only 41% of that which our federal government calls a family in similar circumstances 100% impoverished.
There is virtually NO poverty entitlement program for which the Mohammed’s are not eligible.
So, let’s add ‘em up.
Since Mr. Mohammed is considered a part-time employee, publicly-funded Medicaid provides the family health insurance. We know what our private insurance premiums are costing us, so let’s be lenient and estimate the value of the Mohammed’s insurance premium at a $1,000 per month, or $12,000 annually.
Subsidized housing for a four-bedroom apartment is close to a $1,000 per month, or $12,000 annually. The Mohammed’s will have no co-pay.
Estimates for the costs of teaching a non-English learner are about 50% over a mainstream education, according to most sources. In Minnesota, educating a mainstream student costs about $6,000 annually; for the refugee student, about $9,000, or $63,000 annually for the Mohammed family.
Federal supports and sundries
The federal Refugee Reception and Placement Program contracts with the nine “faith-based” VOLAG’s, to relocate and place the family over a 30-day period, for $2,225 per person. Total RRP tab for the Mohammed family: $20,025.
Minnesota’s “Diversionary Work Program” is intended to help parents prepare for the world of work. The family can qualify for a benefits package of up to $70 per person to cover expenses including shelter, utilities, phone allowances, and other “personal needs”. Total expense for the Mohammed family: $630 a month, or their eligibility for the cash portion of the Minnesota Family Investment Program (read: welfare), whichever is less. For a family of just two, the cash portion of the MFIP is $408 per month. MFIP assistance lasts for five years. Oh, and by the way; up to 43% of the Mohammed family’s earned income is disregarded when determining the net income for computing their monthly benefits. Essentially, the Mohammed family will be eligible for the maximum full ride on this program for five years.
If, by some freak occurrence, the Mohammed family is ineligible for the benefits described above (and how could they be?), the state Refugee Cash Assistance program will pick up the slack. RCA provides a monthly standard of $437 for a childless couple, so it’s a safe assumption that a family of nine will receive at least twice that amount.
The federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Minnesota Supplemental Aid (MSA) provides cash assistance for aged, blind, or disabled refugees.
Then there are: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), a/k/a food stamps; refugee health screening for communicable and infectious diseases; employment services; English-language learner classes; federally-mandated translation services for schools, hospitals, health clinics, law enforcement, judiciary, and corrections. [And, I will add a cost never calculated and that is the cost of the criminal justice system if just one of the ‘children’ has a run-in with the law.—ed]
Finally, there have been suggestions that employers of refugees, such as in the meatpacking industry, receive cash subsidies from the US Department of Labor, intended to offset the cost of training the refugees. In the past, federally-funded “on-the-job” training at the worksite has enabled employers to recover cash equal to 50% of the employees’ wages for up to twelve months.
Have I said enough, fellow activists?
Small wonder Minnesota’s Legislative Auditor can’t get its head wrapped around refugee resettlement finances. And it won’t. And neither will any other agency of local, county, or state government. Because it’s the equivalent of pulling a loose thread on your clothing. And because the motivation, the incentive, simply is not there.
Run the numbers for health care, housing, education, cash assistance, and sundries, and this one Mohammed family appears to produce liabilities to federal, state, county, local, and school district taxpayers of about a HALF MILLION DOLLARS over a five-year period.
So, the hair-splitting and hand-wringing that reports like the Minnesota Legislature’s Auditor produced this month are simply a diversion. The question is not whether or not refugee resettlement burdens the taxpayers. The existence of the burden is beyond question. The central questions is: how much, if any, burden is our society willing to incur? How much of a burden is TOO much? Those are political questions. Meanwhile, we as a nation are now faced with the management of a chronic financial burden.
And with regard to the future political question, the following proposal is a reasonable starting point for a conservative’s solution:
1) Any refugee resettled in the US must have pre-arranged employment, pre-arranged unsubsidized housing, and a private sponsor that secures an insurance policy – a bond – to relieve government of any financial liability, should the resettlement threaten to become a public charge;
2) Refugees must be INELIGIBLE for any public assistance, excluding the public education of minor children, for the first five years following resettlement;
3) The taxpaying public is long past the point for trusting its government agencies associated with refugee resettlement to audit themselves. It’s time for the establishment of Citizen Review Boards, bestowed with the legal authority and the funding to retain private, independent auditors; to identify which public programs are to be measured, the metrics used to measure them; to share what is learned with the citizenry, through neighborhood-based discussion and debate; and to recommend reforms or repeal. Lastly, it is time for citizens to DEMAND that state legislatures take up this issue for discussion, debate, and resolution.
We do not need the permission of the federal government to protect our communities. What we need is the political will, along with very thick skin.
Mr. Enos’ guest column is archived in my category entitled: ‘Comments worth noting/guest posts,’ here. You will find other columns by Mr. Enos there as well.
Endnote: In 2015, the Center for Immigration Studies took a stab at calculating the cost of Middle Eastern refugees to your wallets, here. And more recently the Federation for Immigration Reform did a calculation, here.