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Fargo City Commissioner Piepkorn again targets refugee costs

Dave Piepkorn

FARGO — In a return to his practice of criticizing refugee resettlement, City Commissioner Dave Piepkorn singled out an $11,000 grant to the city to pay for interpreters at Fargo Cass Public Health.

"So it's a grant that we get, but the grant is from the federal government," he told fellow commissioners at their biweekly meeting on Monday, Sept. 25. "So the money, it's our tax money. They make it sound like it's a grant and it doesn't cost anything. Isn't that correct? It's a federal grant and so that's where the money comes from."

It wasn't immediately clear who "they" are, but the grant is part of the federal funding given to Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota, a group he has criticized before. LSS then gives those funds to other local agencies.

Public Health Director Ruth Roman said her agency gets federal grants for many other services, such as maternal and child health care. She said she appreciates the funds LSS directs her way because they pay for services Public Health must provide one way or another.

The commission voted 4-1 to receive the funds, with Piepkorn casting the lone dissenting vote.

His public complaints about refugee resettlement began last fall. He's called refugee resettlement an "unfunded mandate" because local governments, which pay the cost of providing refugee services, don't have a say.

LSS, which resettles refugees throughout North Dakota, has been a frequent target. Piepkorn has complained that the agency brings more refugees here so that it can receive more federal funds.

The $11,000 that Piepkorn singled out Monday night is typically found in the consent agenda, meaning staff considers it a routine matter not requiring discussion. Piepkorn asked to move the LSS grant to the regular agenda to talk about it and vote on it separately.

Roman, answering questions from commissioners, said about a third of Public Health's budget is from federal, state and local government grants. Federal funds are often given to state agencies to give out to local agencies, she said, but LSS is a special case because it is the federal government's designated refugee resettlement agency for North Dakota.

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