HIAS Lauds Introduction of SSI Extension Bill
Posted by Liza Lieberman on Tue, Aug 09, 2011 at 11:51 am
HIAS strongly supports Congressman Jim McDermott (D-WA) and Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s (R-FL) legislation (H.R. 2763), introduced on August 4, 2011, to ensure that elderly and disabled refugees living in the United States do not lose vital public benefits. Under the new bill, qualified refugees who have very low or no other source of income would be eligible to receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for up to nine years before becoming citizens.
SSI provides a modest stipend of approximately $674 per month to elderly, disabled, and blind persons who are unable to support themselves financially. Currently, refugees are eligible to receive these benefits for 7 years. After 7 years, if they do not naturalize, elderly and disabled refugees lose their SSI benefits.
In 2008, Congress extended the benefits for refugees for two years. However, the extension expired on September 30th, 2010. As a result, thousands of elderly and disabled refugees have lost their benefits, and hundreds more continue to be terminated each month because they have failed to naturalize. As much as they would like to become U.S. citizens, barriers to naturalization such as difficulty learning English at an advanced age and lack of friends and family to help them find and access naturalization assistance have prevented thousands from naturalizing before the seven year deadline.
For these refugees, SSI is a lifeline because many are not able to provide their own means of financial support. They rely on their monthly check to cover basic expenses such as food, rent, and medications. The United States has offered refuge to this vulnerable population, and therefore needs a system that protects them if they cannot support themselves due to old age or disability.
According to Gideon Aronoff, President and CEO of HIAS, “Refugees and asylees are admitted to the U.S. because they have been the victims of persecution in their home countries. While most refugees and asylees are able to rebuild their lives in America with minimal assistance, the elderly or disabled may never be able to provide their own means of support because of their inability to work.
“It is essential that Congress and the Administration move immediately to renew the SSI benefits extension and, ultimately, to delink benefits from citizenship. Without this, we are leaving our most vulnerable residents behind – and not living up to our nation’s promise of providing refuge to the persecuted and dispossessed.”
Senior Vice President for Policy and Programs Mark Hetfield added, “Not only is it inhumane for the United States to throw disabled refugees and asylees out on the street, but it is also a violation of international law. Article 23 of the Refugee Convention requires that countries ‘shall accord to refugees lawfully staying in their territory the same treatment with respect to public relief and assistance as is accorded to their nationals.’”
Many of these refugees are Jews from the former Soviet Union, Iran and other countries. As Americans and as Jews, we have a duty to ensure that this vulnerable population receives the benefits that they need for basic expenses such as food and shelter.
HIAS thanks Congressman Jim McDermott and Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen for their leadership on this important issue, and will continue to work with them to protect elderly and disabled immigrants.