Newsletter #143 – Who’s Working in Tennessee?

Gov. Haslam’s reelection campaign includes taking credit for bringing “170,000 new jobs to Tennessee.”

Gov. Haslam’s reelection campaign includes taking credit for bringing “170,000 new jobs to Tennessee.”

An August 2014 Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) analysis of Tennessee’s employment growth since 2000 shows that the jobs have gone to legal and illegal immigrants.

“Tennessee’s working-age immigrant population grew 176 percent from 2000 to 2014, one of the highest of any state in the nation. Yet the number of natives working in 2014 was actually lower in 2000.”

CIS used the same data the government uses to determine labor market participation.

Who are legal immigrants in Tennessee?

Refugees are legal immigrants that are brought to Tennessee by federal contractors like Catholic Charities. They come with work authorization and access to all forms of public assistance including TennCare, SSI and cash welfare, if they meet the eligibility requirements. Federal contractors like Catholic Charities always say that the federal government pays the full cost of the resettlement program. That is not true. The federal government has admitted many times that they have shifted the bulk of the program’s cost to the States.

The FY2015 “Key Indicators for Refugee Placement” is a report providing information to help the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement and its federal contractors decide where to send refugees in the coming year. In the report is information about whether a state has decided to expand its Medicaid program because this is a program with high refugee enrollment.

Federal contractor, Tennessee Office for Refugees (TOR), a department of Catholic Charities of TN, has run the refugee resettlement program in Tennessee since late 2008. During the first 3 years TOR ran the program, they brought approximately 4,500 refugees to the state so TennCare enrollment within this group more than doubled.

In November 2013, Haslam admitted that increased TennCare costs “threaten to gobble up to 60% of all new revenue in the state’s upcoming 2015 budget.”

Another “key indicator” included in the report is refugee employment data by state. Federal

contractors uniformly report that a high percentage of their refugee clients are employed within the first 3 – 6 months of having arrived and become economically self-sufficient shortly thereafter.   The following Tennessee employment data was reported:

  • out of 1809 refugees brought to Tennessee by contractors, only 52% were eligible for employment
  • of the 952 eligible for employment, only 2/3, or about 618 entered employment
  • 90 days after entering employment, about 506 were still employed

Federal contractors are supposed to report 90 and 180 day employment retention outcomes to the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement ORR). This report did not include the 180 day employment retention information. “Friends of Refugees,” is a non-partisan volunteer watchdog group that includes former refugee resettlement agency volunteers. A recent story about Tennessee federal contractor Bridge that resettles refugees in Knoxville and Chattanooga, says the employment data is not accurate:

“A former case manager also sent us information about the agency and pointed out that the refugee employment figures are dishonest as most of the refuges have only temporary employment that does not help them to pay rent and be self-sufficient. The nature of the temp jobs also means that the refugees will be unemployed just a short time after the agency reports them employed to the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) at 90 days and 180 days.”

Economic self-sufficiency is supposed to be a guiding principle of the U.S. refugee resettlement program. But federal law says that refugees can use every public assistance program such as Medicaid, food stamps, SSI, and public housing, and still be considered “economically self-sufficient” as long as they don’t receive cash welfare.

“Welfare use is staggering among refugees. Welfare usage is never counted by officials as part of the cost of the program. Yet, when it is included, the total cost of the refugee program soars to at least 10-20 billion a year”. (see Fact Sheet)

Of 58,238 refugees resettled in the U.S.,the 2012 ORR report to Congress shows that the unemployment rate is the highest it has been since 2007, 73% receive food stamps, 24% use public housing, 19% are on SSI, 46.5% receive cash welfare and 60% are enrolled in Medicaid or have received 8 months of medical assistance if non-Medicaid eligible.

The Chamber of Commerce Inside and Outside the Governor’s office

In 2001 the Nashville Chamber of Commerce took money from the ORR for the “Building the New American Community” pilot program of ‘gateway’ refugee resettlement. The US Chamber of Commerce and its member chambers like the Nashville and Tennessee Chambers, support refugee resettlement. So while crony capitalists exploit ‘serf’ labor from other countries, U.S. and Tennessee citizens can line up for work.

The TN Chamber of Commerce also supports Medicaid expansion and can work the inside track to the Governor’s office. Leslie Hafner, Haslam’s director for legislation is also the business partner of the Chamber’s chief lobbyist, David McMahan.

So whose economic interests does Governor Haslam really represent? Unemployed Tennessee citizens or the imported refugee “serf” labor? Who eneded up with the 170,000 new jobs?

Part 2 to come.