JUDICIAL WATCH — The U.S. government gives refugees on public assistance special “loans” of up to $15,000 to start a business but fails to keep track of defaults that could translate into huge losses for American taxpayers, records obtained by Judicial Watch reveal. The cash is distributed through a program called Microenterprise Development run by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement.
Since 2010 the program has granted thousands of loans to refugees that lack the financial resources, credit history or personal assets to qualify for business loans from commercial banks. Most if not all the recipients already get assistance or subsidies from the government, according to the qualification guidelines set by the Microenterprise Development Program. It’s a risky operation that blindly gives public funds to poor foreign nationals with no roots in the U.S. and there’s no follow up to assure the cash is paid back. The idea behind it is to “equip refugees with the skills they need to become successful entrepreneurs” by helping them expand or maintain their own business and become financially independent.
Earlier this year, Judicial Watch submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to HHS for records related to the refugee business loan program. Specifically, JW asked for the number of loans that are written off per year and the amount of the write-off per defaulted loan. Unlike commercial banks or other lending institutions, HHS doesn’t keep track of default rates on loans issued through the Microenterprise program. This is astonishing considering that these are taxpayer dollars being furnished in the form of loans to foreign nationals granted refuge in the United States. An HHS official told JW the agency doesn’t have a tracking system in place to provide figures involving loan defaults. However, the agency is “preparing to collect this information in the future,” according to the records obtained by JW from the agency.