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Haslam Sends Letter of Concern to Obama Over Unaccompanied Minors

Letter to U.S. President Barack Obama  from Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam; July 25, 2014:

The Honorable Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear President Obama:

I write to you to express my concern about the number of unaccompanied immigrant children entering this country and the failure of the federal government to notify states in which children are being released.

On July 13, the nation’s governors met with Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Burwell during the annual National Governors Association meeting, which I hosted in Nashville this year. We spent a significant amount of time in that meeting discussing the issue of unaccompanied immigrant children. Although this is a complex issue and one that ultimately must be solved at the federal government level, governors are rightly concerned about the impact on states. We emphasized to
Secretary Burwell the need to be informed of any children being relocated to our states.

It is unacceptable that we became aware via a posting on the HHS website that 760 unaccompanied children have been released by the Office of Refugee Resettlement to sponsors in Tennessee without my administration’s knowledge. Not only was our state not informed prior to any of the children being brought here, I still have not been contacted and have no information about these individuals or their sponsors other than what was posted on the HHS website and subsequently reported by media.

Although solving the border crisis is a federal responsibility, this influx of immigrant children could have a significant impact on state and local governments. Therefore, we strongly believe that the state needs to be informed prior to any additional unaccompanied immigrant children being released in Tennessee, and we also need immediate answers to the following questions:

1. What was the process for determining that these children should be released to sponsors in Tennessee?
2. How did you locate and evaluate the fitness of their sponsors?
3. What medical screenings were the children given prior to their release in Tennessee?
4. What is the official immigration status of these children and their sponsors?
5. In what localities are these children now residing?
6. What are the legal requirements concerning the provision of services for these children while they are in the state?
7. What additional information is available on these children, such as age and health status?
8. How long will these children be in Tennessee?

Tennessee is a diverse and welcoming state, and we also understand that this is a complicated issue. However, an influx of unaccompanied immigrant children to the state, with little information being made available to the public or to state leaders, creates confusion and could be very problematic. The start of school is approaching for many districts across the state, and the federal government’s actions have caused great uncertainty around this issue.

I appreciate your attention to this matter and look forward to receiving a response to these urgent questions.

Sincerely,

Bill Haslam
Governor

cc: The Honorable Sylvia Burwell, Secretary, HHS

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Haslam Optimistic New HHS Head Will Work With TN on Medicaid Expansion

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said he expects discussions about Medicaid expansion in the Volunteer State will come up this week at the National Governors Association meeting in Nashville.

Sylvia Burwell, the new U.S. Department of Health and Human Services secretary, is expected to attend the NGA meeting, Haslam told reporters following a grant announcement in Dunlap Tuesday. She was appointed to the post June 9.

Despite the fact that it’s been about a year and a half since Haslam said he wanted to develop a special “Tennessee Plan” for accessing Affordable Care Act money to expand government-financed health insurance for the state’s lower income residents, there’s been little visible movement toward a compromise.

In the meantime, the Legislature has passed a law requiring that the General Assembly sign off on any agreement the Haslam administration reaches with Washington for it to take effect. Republicans dominate in the statehouse, and many have indicated they’re in no way whatsoever interested in facilitating any aspect of Obamacare.

Still, the governor said, new blood at HHS may mean novel approaches will be considered by those administering the ACA at the federal level.

“We’ve always had hope that there’s something to work out, or we would have just quit a long time ago,” Haslam said. “But I think obviously whenever you introduce somebody new into the process, you hope it’ll be somebody who can help get some of the logs unjammed.”

Haslam said he’s met Burwell previously when she was in a different position, but this week’s meeting in Nashville would be the first chance he’s had to speak with her since she was appointed head of the department that oversees the execution of Obamacare policies.

Former HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Obama’s first appointment to that role, resigned on April 11, in the wake of months of criticism over the problematic roll out of the Affordable Care Act federal health care exchange.

According to the Affordable Care Act, if Tennessee agrees to expand TennCare, the federal government will pick up the tab for the coverage through 2016, and provide part of the cost after that.

Haslam initially held out for a waiver from HHS that would allow him to establish a “third way,” and use federal money to subsidize private insurance to extend coverage to 175,000 uninsured Tennesseans.

An agreement was never reached between Sebelius and Haslam, but Haslam has continued to say that he is still working on finding a way to reach a middle ground between the Obama administration and Tennessee’s Republican super-majority in the General Assembly.

The Tennessee House Democratic Caucus sent out a press release last week referencing a recent report by the White House Council of Economic Advisors that “lays out the fiscal, economic and moral failure caused by the Haslam administration’s refusal to expand Medicaid in Tennessee.”

But there is concern among those opposed to expanding the state’s poverty health care program about whether the federal government can afford to do that, as well as what the state should do in the case that the money for the program is not forthcoming from federal officials.

Back in the mid-2000s, under Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen, Tennessee had to remove more than 300,000 from TennCare coverage, due to rising costs and lack of funding, a problematic time that is often pointed to by opponents of Medicaid expansion.

Haslam was in Dunlap to award a transportation grant of $591,141 to the city for them to help connect nearby residential areas with the downtown education centers and business district.

The NGA meeting begins Thursday, July 10, in Nashville, and runs through July 13.