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Policy: Entitlements

Report says refugees a net positive for Tennessee

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Associated Press,Immigration,Tennessee,Entitlements

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A report by the state's Fiscal Review Committee has found that refugees bring in more money to Tennessee than they cost the state in entitlements. But that's not the message some of the lawmakers who asked for the report want to hear.

Due to a lack of data, the author of the report had to make some assumptions, including that refugees consume public services and pay taxes at a similar rate to the average Tennessean.

"We don't know if it's flawed. But we don't know if it's accurate," state Rep. Joe Carr (R-Lascassas) told WPLN radio (http://bit.ly/1cT8nGW ). "So if we don't know if it's accurate or flawed, what was the point of the study?"

Carr serves on a subcommittee of the Joint Government Operations Committee that has been working on the assumption that there are hidden costs to resettling Tennessee's estimated 58,000 refugees.

The report, issued on Tuesday, estimates that Tennessee taxpayers spent $40 million last year to educate school-age refugees and $26 million to cover refugees on TennCare. That's about $66 million in costs. But refugees are estimated to have paid more than $103 million in state taxes.

The report concludes that by a conservative estimate, refugees and their descendants have accounted for about 0.7 percent of the state's population since 1990. Over that same period, the state has spent at least $753 million on services to that population, and brought in at least $1.387 billion in revenue from them.

Some refugees worry that the resettlement debate has religious undertones.

Mohamed Hassan is from Somalia and is Muslim. He said that some of the lawmakers interested in the refugee situation have also spoken out against Islam and introduced legislation targeting Muslims.

"The language and everything has changed," Hassan said. "But I'm under the impression that the intention is still there, going solely after certain people."

Carr said the only motivation is trying to figure out if the federal government is shifting the cost of resettlement onto the states.

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