Costs of the Somali community

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Minnesota’s large and ever increasing Somali population is the ultimate protected minority in our left-wing utopia. The Somalis are black. The Somalis are Muslim. The Somalis vote Democratic. As I never tire of noting, in October 2015 Governor Mark Dayton instructed “white, B-plus, Minnesota-born citizens” to suppress their qualms about immigrant resettlement in Minnesota. If they can’t, they should “find another state,” he advised. We are directed to adjust and required to provide our support.

The Somalis may be retrograde in their treatment of women and their related attitudes toward them. They may not share the liberal appreciation of homosexuality and abortion. They may have problematic enthusiasms in other respects. But we generally agree not to look too closely, or to avert our eyes.

We don’t even have a handle on how large the community is. The official estimate (there is no official number) is something like 40,000, but the United States Attorney’s Office here used an estimate of 100,000 in its formal written agreement with Somali community leaders to undertake the so-called Building Community Resilience program.

Thus it was left to Kelly Riddell to provide an account of the Somali community’s high-volume consumption of Minnesota welfare services — in the Washington Times, in 2015. Riddell’s article remains essential reading on the subject.

Today the Star Tribune’s Milo Koumpilova takes a look in “Refugee resettlement costs are up but still a small part of welfare programs.” Even the headline is argumentative. The special pleading leaps from the opening paragraphs:

Minnesota chips in generously to help refugees adjust to life in the United States, but these costs make up a small fraction of the overall tab for public assistance programs.

Data the state compiled for the Star Tribune show that Minnesota spent more than $180 million in state and federal dollars on cash, food and medical assistance for refugees in 2015, the most recent period available. That’s up 15 percent from five years ago but still less than 2 percent of total expenses for these programs. For state-subsidized child care, however, refugee communities have come to account for more than a quarter of costs.

Somali participation in post-resettlement welfare and related programs remains something of a mystery. Until today the Star Tribune has left the question untouched. Koumpilova approaches it as the special pleading continues. The data are weirdly presented to conceal the basic questions. Even so, you can’t miss this. We are carrying a heavy load:

Minnesota chips in generously to help refugees adjust to life in the United States, but these costs make up a small fraction of the overall tab for public assistance programs.

Data the state compiled for the Star Tribune show that Minnesota spent more than $180 million in state and federal dollars on cash, food and medical assistance for refugees in 2015, the most recent period available. That’s up 15 percent from five years ago but still less than 2 percent of total expenses for these programs. For state-subsidized child care, however, refugee communities have come to account for more than a quarter of costs.

The federal government covered almost 55 percent of the overall costs, including the entire $15 million tab for food stamps and half the $144.5 million medical assistance bill. The department said the numbers capture refugees who move to Minnesota from other states as well as most who become permanent residents after a year in the country, unless they choose to update their status.

Minnesota is known among newcomers for its generous benefits, says the state’s former refugee coordinator, Gus Avenido.

According to a federal comparison, refugees in Minnesota receive $532 a month on average through its family cash assistance program, compared with about $430 nationally.

State data show almost 78 percent of Somalis exit the family cash assistance program within three years, above the 67 percent of all Minnesotans on average.

Beyond these programs, estimating costs gets trickier.

In response to a data request, the Department of Human Services found the state resettled more than 3,785 school-aged children in the past five years. But the state doesn’t know how many needed English services. In recent years, the cost of educating English learners was about $9,790 in federal and state dollars, compared with about $8,080 for an average student.

For other programs, the only way to estimate refugee participation or costs is to use home or preferred language — a flawed substitute because residents who list, say, Somali could be second-generation U.S. citizens or newcomers sponsored by family.

Using language as a measure, one program where the state’s largest refugee communities account for a sizable portion of the tab is subsidized child care. Almost 7,500 Somali, 300 Oromo and 200 Karen children received more than $49.6 million in state child care subsidies last year — more than a quarter of all expenses, compared with 12 percent five years ago.

Riddell turned for help to Minnesota’s Center of the American Experiment, the organization that John heads. The costs of refugee resettlement remain of continuing concern to American Experiment, as evidenced by Kim Crockett’s recent column.

Riddell quoted Professor Ahmed Samatar of Macalester College in St. Paul: “Minnesota is exceptional in so many ways but it’s the closest thing in the United States to a true social democratic state.”

One could see just about every element of the issue raised by the continuing Somali influx to Minnesota in the terrorism trial that concluded this past June 3 with convictions against the three defendants contesting charges against them. Only one of the three defendants — Guled Omar — testified at trial. His personal background is illustrative in this context.

Omar was born in a Kenyan refugee camp. He was roughly three years old when his family moved to the United States. His family emigrated to Kenya as a result of the Somali civil war. His father was shot three times in the conflict and lost his left leg as a result of the injuries. His father is disabled, but his disability gave him preferential immigration treatment by the United States.

Omar’s father has disappeared from the United States. He has left Omar’s mother with a rather large family. Omar has nine sisters and four brothers. They live in housing subsidized by a Section 8 voucher, although that must be the least of it. Omar himself was a sophisticated consumer of government benefits that he sought to turn to terrorist uses. In order to fund his second attempt to join ISIS in Syria, Omar intended to use federal financial aid provided to attend college. Sad but true.

Donald Trump took up the case of the Somali influx (to both Minnesota and Maine) this past August in the course of the presidential campaign. Koumpilova rose to the defense of the Somali community in the supposed news article “Trump’s comments about Minnesota Somalis met with outrage, satisfaction.” She noted that Trump cited Riddell’s article, although she declined to provide a link or the name of the reporter who wrote it.

Trump referred to the security threat raised by the Minnesota’s Somali community. Here Koumpilova professed uncertainty. She wasn’t entirely sure what Trump was talking about: “Trump appeared to be alluding to the recent convictions of nine young Somali-Americans in what the FBI described as a plot to leave the country and join the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in Syria.” Could be!

A close reader may have noted that Koumpilova confirmed the substance of Riddell’s article. If you read the story like Russians used to read Pravda, looking for the nugget of truth that might be buried in an otherwise propagandistic article, you will find this:

Amid a growing number of arrivals from other states, Minnesota has seen an increase in Somali food and cash assistance participation since 2010.

A recent report comparing various groups in the state paints a “stark” picture of the challenges Somali Minnesotans face, said Susan Brower, the state’s demographer. Almost 60 percent live under the poverty line, compared with 11 percent of all Minnesota. Unemployment of adults in the labor force stands at 20 percent, the highest of any group in the state. But Brower said recent years have also brought rapid gains in employment, high school graduation and college attendance for that community.

“While there are immediate costs to refugee resettlement now, we need to take a longer view,” she said.

The data strongly suggest the disproportionate consumption of welfare benefits of all kinds by Minnesota’s Somali community. The “longer view” remained implicit. Koumpilova returns to it in her article today, although she seems to have forgotten the rest of this. We aren’t going to make a cost-benefit assessment today, 25 years into the Somali exodus to Minnesota, and we’re not going to look too closely at the prospect of assimilation to American principles or norms.

NOTE: Koumpilova provides a sidebar on welfare costs here.