Newsletter #105 -Rep. Bill Sanderson Chooses 60 MInutes over Tennesseans With Disabilities

It’s no news to anyone listening in Tennessee, that Governor Haslam is warning that projected revenue shortfalls will mean budget cuts.

Speaker Harwell acknowledged that with “revenues down a little this year, [balancing the state’s budget] will be tough.  But we will stick to the principles of fiscal responsibility and balance it responsibly.”

On January 2, 2014, The Tennessean reported: “The governor has argued that the annual growth in Medicaid spending has put the squeeze on other programs the state would like to spend money on. ‘Medicaid takes up all of our new dollars, and that’s just the hard fact,’ the governor told reporters after a Rotary Club speech last month.”

The week of January 20, 2014, the newspaper ran a series titled “Broken Trust” about the 7,100 most vulnerable Tennesseans with developmental disabilities who are forced to go without needed services because of the state’s failure to allocate the funds.

The funds needed to provide these services are Medicaid funds.  These are dollars that the State spends and the federal government matches.

Rep. Bill Sanderson believes that these state Medicaid dollars should NOT go to Tennesseans with developmental disabilities, but instead, to refugees who don’t even live in Tennessee yet.  He’s referring to the refugees that are eventually brought to Tennessee by Catholic Charities, a federal contractor that gets paid a lot of taxpayer money to bring refugees to Tennessee.

When refugees are brought to Tennessee by the federal contractors, they are immediately enrolled into any and all public assistance programs, including, state-funded TennCare, SSI, and cash welfare. The federal government used to reimburse the state for 3 years worth of what it cost the state to provide these benefits.  But typical of the federal government, they broke their promise to the states and stopped reimbursing the states for what the federal program cost.

A recent op-ed in The Tennessean notes: “The federal government assumed there would be a cost to states when it established the resettlement program in 1980. That’s why it promised three years of support for refugees, reimbursing states for their social-service costs. That period quickly shrank from three years to eight months, and there is no longer any reimbursement for state costs. The federal government has repeatedly documented the fact that refugee program costs are being shifted to states.”

In fact, the federal government acknowledged  in multiple reports, that they were simply “passing these costs onto the state.” During an August 2013 legislative hearing it was disclosed that when Catholic Charities took over the program, the number of refugees being brought to Tennessee increased pretty dramatically and that in 2011, for example, 58% of over 2000 people they brought to Tennessee, were enrolled into TennCare (that’s a little more than 1,000 people).

Last year, a bill was brought to Rep. Sanderson’s committee that was designed to help Tennessee figure out how much it was costing the state to pay for the federal program, a program that the state withdrew from in 2008 and is now run by a federal contractor.

But Rep. Sanderson who scathingly accused the bill sponsors and advocates of going on a “witch hunt against Catholic Charities,” related how he had watched a “60 Minutes” segment about refugees and it convinced him that they needed our help. He enthusiastically joined up with the federal contractors and led the effort to not pass the bill out of the committee.

The lobbyist for Catholic Charities was also the lobbyist for the TN Disability Coalition supported Sanderson’s position.  Isn’t this Disability Coalition supposed to advocate for the needs of the 7,100 people with disabilities waiting for services?  Did this lobbyist have a conflict of interest? The lobbyist may have had a conflict of interest since she is no longer the Disability Coalition lobbyist.

But how does the Governor propose a budget and how does the legislature pass a budget if they don’t know what everything costs?  What if they knew how much money the federal contractors were racking up for the state and then decided not to spend that money on that program?  Could they use that state money instead for some of the 7,100 Tennesseans with disabilities?

Maybe Speaker Harwell needs have a heart to heart with her House colleague.

Maybe Sanderson hadn’t read about or met one of the 7,100 Tennesseans with disabilities.  Maybe they need “60 Minutes” to help them get his attention.

Better yet, let him and Speaker Harwell know what Tennesseans think:;  615-741-0718; 615-741-0709