Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

Bowling Green International Center – Matching Grant Program inspection

Posted by Christopher Coen on May 3, 2012

In late 2009 and early 2010 a volunteer assisting refugees at the Bowling Green International Center (previously known as Western Kentucky Refugee Mutual Assistance Association) found refugees from Myanmar (in this case Karenni) living in deplorable conditions, who reported receiving low-quality resettlement services from the resettlement agency. The volunteer documented extensively what she saw and heard, including taking photos and videos. Oddly, a State Department resettlement grant inspection report from earlier in 2009 failed to uncover any of these problems.

Now, here is a look at the ORR’s most recent inspection report of the International Center’s (IC’s) use of Matching Grant Program funds, from 2006. By the way, this is one of twelve inspection reports (8 were incomplete) that we recently received from a Freedom of Information Act request to the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) covering a period from 2005 to 2011. (If HHS complied with the FOIA law, that would mean that the ORR did two inspections per year. This, in a program that in CY2006, for example, paid out $35,772,000 to the resettlement contractors, and served 24,753 refugees, Cuban/Haitian Entrants, asylees and victims of trafficking) 

Here are highlights from the inspection:

  • The IC’s national affiliate, the USCRI, supposedly monitored the IC in March of 2006 (these are the self-inspections that the State Dept. touts as being useful — I remain skeptical). “ORR requested a copy of this report for the record, but USCRI failed to comply.”
  • Of the 67 refugees enrolled in the MG program in 2005, the ORR reviewed only eight refugee case files. Files contained document forms in other languages that did not have a corresponding English copy. Comprehensive employment services were in some cases not documented as required by MG Guidelines. In some cases there was no documentation of closeout, e.g. status of refugee at termination of services and referrals to later programs if needed. The ORR reviewer found that the full issues that had arisen in refugee cases — the resulting services and/or follow-up for some cases — were not noted, and were instead learned only by speaking with the refugees (visiting with only three of the 67 refugees) and resettlement agency staff.
  • The IC referred the vast majority of refugees to only one factory that it had a long, established relationship with, disregarding the diversity of refugees’ employment histories and education. (One size does not fit all.)
  • Instances where the IC did not pay the children’s part of the monthly cash payments – $40 per child. This is the cash that the ORR gives to resettlement agencies for refugee parents who are receiving employment services so that they are able to pay basic bills.
  • Although resettlement agencies such as the IC are allowed to use $2 in MG funds for each $1 in donations they gather, the ORR review found “numerous instances in which copious amounts of inappropriate and unallowable donations were being recorded and counted as MG match. Examples include $1,639 for clothing donations to [match the MG funds] a family of three…and $3,319 for clothing donations for a family of six…unclear service donations of $192 (I suspect that should be four digits — a piece here is redacted)…and counting donations that are clearly required as part of the [State Department refugee grant] (Mattresses [for one refugee] and pillows, sheets, mattresses, etc. for [another refugee] as MG match. The reviewer…found that donated goods were not…consistently valued in a manner that assigns reasonable values to such donations.”
  • The IC intermingled funds from separate grants, even from separate US federal agencies, which the ORR assessed as “grossly incompliant” (sic). For example, the reviewer found “numerous instances where [IC] was incorrectly charging federal funds for employee time. ORR Matching Grant, ORR Cash Assistance, ORR Medical Assistance, ORR…Social Services, and [State Department initial resettlement services grant money] charges were often mixed up.” This included double charging case management services to the MG program and to another grant though the refugee was only enrolled in the MG program, charging refugee health costs to MG, and charging MG past the allowable service period.
  • Despite these deficiencies the ORR wrote that the International Center provides “effective services to refugees that are enrolled in the MG program” (???), and that the number of refugees enrolled in the MG program was projected to increase from 67 in 2005 to 175 in 2006. The ORR’s specific assessment of the IC’s use of MG program grant money also appears to give the agency credit for non-MG services. For example, the ORR gives the IC credit for services such as referring refugees in a timely manner to food stamps, medical assistance, health screenings and social security cards – all of which the State Department refugee resettlement grant covered. Read report here
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