Georgia Won’t Process Benefits Application For Syrian Refugee Family

The state of Georgia won’t process the application for food stamps and other state benefits filed by a newly arrived Syrian refugee family last week, the state Department of Human Services confirmed to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Thursday.

The Department of Human Services sent a memo in November ordering employees not to process the applications of Syrian refugees after Gov. Nathan Deal (R) issued an executive order telling all state agencies to stop any involvement with the resettlement of refugees from Syria.

Ravae Graham, a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Human Services, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the department will follow the Nov. 18 memo with the newly arrived family.

“We are just going to follow that process as outlined,” she said.

The family of three from Syria arrived in the Atlanta area this month and applied for food stamps last week, according to the Journal-Constitution. Deal indicated last week that he was originally unaware of their arrival in the state.

The federal government has told Deal that he must roll back his executive order in order to comply with federal law. Jessica Shanin, associate administrator at the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, wrote a letter to the state in November warning that denying food stamps to Syrian refugees would violate federal law, noting that states cannot discriminate based on national origin or religion.

The state Division of Family and Child Services responded and said that they would continue to follow Deal’s order. And the governor has said he won’t budge on his decision not to administer food stamps to Syrian refugees.

“I’ve already told them if they don’t like the way we administer the SNAP program, the food stamp program — it’s their program — if they don’t like the way we do it, let them come run it,” Deal said last week, according to the Savannah Morning News. “We’ll hand it over to them.”

He also complained that he wasn’t told in advance of the family’s arrival.

“It’s ironic that the federal government doesn’t see fit to tell the state of Georgia, doesn’t see fit to tell our Homeland Security official, who these people are and where they are,” Deal said last week. “The only way we know they are actually here is when they show up and apply for food stamps.”

And this week, Deal said that he’s willing to defend his policy from a lawsuit.

“We’re ready to defend it if we have to. I’d rather not spend taxpayer money defending something that can be avoided,” he said, according to the Journal-Constitution. “I just don’t know why the federal government wants to do this behind closed doors in total secrecy, and don’t even trust state leaders charged with the security of our states with basic knowledge.”

Although Deal has been steadfast in his defense of his policies regarding Syrian refugees, the state’s attorney general, Sam Olens, a Republican, does not believe the state is on solid legal ground.

In an email sent last week, obtained by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Olens wrote that Deal’s defense of his policy on Syrian refugees “is not well supported in the law.” Olens also said he hoped “every effort is made to resolve this matter without resort to litigation.”

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