The Reagan administration has turned over $11.5 million in disputed refugee aid funds to the states, but it wants the money back if it prevails in a federal lawsuit over the cash.
The money is part of an appropriation of $89 million, consisting of $50 million in new funds and a carryover of $39 million from fiscal 1984, that Rep. Richard H. Lehman (D-Calif.) and others say Congress appropriated for fiscal 1985 aid to counties with large numbers of refugees needing social services.
Members of Congress from states with many refugees, including California and Florida, have been squabbling for months with the Office of Management and Budget about whether the language of the appropriation bill meant to carry over the entire $39 million, none of it, or part of it.
The General Accounting Office interpreted the law as requiring release of the entire $39 million, in addition to $50 million in new funds, for a total of $89 million.
But the OMB first contended that the leftover $39 million was meant to be dropped altogether, then that only $27.5 million of it should be released and $11.5 million withheld.
Lehman and others finally sued the government to get the money released, and the legal principles now are being argued. Meanwhile, a federal judge has ordered the cash distributed to the states.
In a letter to several states, director Phillip N. Hawkes of the Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement said on Nov. 25 that he is releasing the money but, "should a decision be eventually issued in favor of the federal defendants, action will be taken to recover the amounts of these awards and to return these funds to the federal treasury."