Refugee bur­den is called min­i­mal

As St. Cloud de­bates re­set­tle­ment, county of­fi­cial said cost is slight.

Star Tribune - - MINNESOTA - By KELLY SMITH kelly.smith@star­tri­

Heated rhetoric gave way to hard data in St. Cloud on Tues­day, where num­bers re­leased to Stearns County com­mis­sion­ers showed that refugee re­set­tle­ment in the area has had lit­tle to no im­pact on the county’s bud­get.

The data, de­liv­ered amid grow­ing scru­tiny and de­bate in re­cent months over re­set­tle­ment costs in the St. Cloud area, showed that while the num­ber of pri­mary refugees — those whose first home in the U.S. is in Stearns County — grew to a record 281 peo­ple in 2016, refugee re­set­tle­ment has had al­most no ef­fect on the county’s bud­get.

“There are very few tax­payer dol­lars used to sup­port refugee re­set­tle­ment,” Melissa Hu­berty, the county’s hu­man ser­vices ad­min­is­tra­tor, said af­ter­ward. “We’re look­ing to make sure the facts get out there. There’s a lot of mis­in­for­ma­tion in the com­mu­nity.”

Across Min­nesota, more than $180 mil­lion in state and fed­eral dol­lars were spent in 2015 on cash, food and med­i­cal as­sis­tance for refugees, ac­cord­ing to data the state com­piled for the Star Tri­bune this year. That’s up 15 per­cent from five years ago, but is still less than 2 per­cent of to­tal ex­penses for these pro­grams.

No city or county funds are bud­geted di­rectly for re­set­tle­ment. Rather, Stearns County ad­min­is­ters state and fed­eral

Habi­tat for Hu­man­ity is redirecting Give to the Max Day donors to its own page; mean­while, GiveMN has made fixes to its site.


The county spent $240,663 on in­ter­preter ser­vices and $57,000 on pub­lic health ser­vices to refugees — $57,000 in 2016. The cost for both has gone down in 2017, hu­man ser­vices ad­min­is­tra­tor Melissa Hu­berty said.

fund­ing for the work.

Still, the is­sue has cre­ated some hot de­bate in St. Cloud, a city of 66,000 res­i­dents in cen­tral Min­nesota with a grow­ing refugee pop­u­la­tion — most of which is from So­ma­lia. Anti-Mus­lim events there have drawn crowds in re­cent months, mir­ror­ing ris­ing anti-Mus­lim sen­ti­ment na­tion­ally.

Some res­i­dents also have called for the city to im­pose con­trols on re­set­tle­ment. Ear­lier this month, St. Cloud Coun­cil Mem­ber Jeff John­son pro­posed a res­o­lu­tion rec­om­mend­ing a mora­to­rium on re­set­tle­ment un­til the city gets de­tails on the cost of the fed­eral pro­gram on tax­pay­ers. His mea­sure failed.

In­stead, the coun­cil ap­proved 6-1 a res­o­lu­tion af­firm­ing that it is a “wel­com­ing com­mu­nity.”

Ac­cord­ing to data (on­line at pre­sented to county com­mis­sion­ers, in De­cem­ber 2016, 76 refugees re­ceived fed­er­ally funded refugee cash as­sis­tance in Stearns County to­tal­ing $14,752. That’s the only ben­e­fit specif­i­cally for refugees in the U.S., and is lim­ited to up to eight months. That ac­counts for 0.1 per­cent of all county ben­e­fit dis­burse­ments.

The county spends money on in­ter­preter ser­vices — $240,663 in 2016 — and pub­lic health ser­vices to refugees — $57,000 in 2016. The cost for both has gone down in 2017, Hu­berty said.

Lutheran So­cial Ser­vice of Min­nesota, the only or­ga­ni­za­tion that over­sees refugee re­set­tle­ment in St. Cloud, has helped move an av­er­age of 189 refugees a year to the area since 2010 and ex­pects to re­set­tle an­other 225 refugees in 2018.

In the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s first pub­lic we­bi­nar Tues­day, of­fi­cials said refugees get a one­time fed­eral grant of $1,125 that must be used within 90 days of ar­riv­ing. All refugees also pay lo­cal and state taxes. In 2014, that to­taled $227.2 mil­lion in state and lo­cal rev­enue in Min­nesota, ac­cord­ing to the state Depart­ment of Hu­man Ser­vices.

Data on refugees is lim­ited be­cause a refugee is just one type of im­mi­grant sta­tus. Sec­ondary refugees who moved to St. Cloud from an­other U.S. city aren’t tracked, Hu­berty said.

“Peo­ple can get to move around and choose where to live just like any other res­i­dent,” she said af­ter the 80-minute we­bi­nar, at­tended by more than 100 peo­ple. “Refugees pay taxes; they par­tic­i­pate in the com­mu­nity in a re­ally large way. They’re a very valu­able re­source and great con­trib­u­tors in the com­mu­nity.”

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