HIAS Applauds Signing of SSI Extension Into Law: Measure will help thousands of elderly and disabled Jewish refugees

Posted on Thu, Oct 02, 2008 at 15:39 pm

(Washington, D.C.)– HIAS, the international migration agency of the American Jewish community, applauds the President for signing the SSI Extension for Elderly and Disabled Refugees Act. As a result, tens of thousands of humanitarian migrants – including elderly and/or disabled Jewish refugees from the former Soviet Union – who have lost their Supplemental Security Income (SSI) because they were not able to become citizens within seven years of entering the United States, will now qualify for two or three additional years of SSI benefits.

HIAS, which was instrumental in processing these migrants to live in the U.S., has been at the forefront of advocacy for this legislation since 2003, when naturalization backlogs created by post-September 11th policies prevented most refugees and aslyees from completing their naturalization process in the mandated seven years.

Refugees and immigrants who currently receive SSI will be granted nine years to naturalize, instead of the previously mandated seven years. The new law also provides a tenth year of benefits to individuals who have exercised their best efforts to become U.S. citizens and still have pending applications. The legislation sunsets in 2011.

The bill passed the Senate via unanimous consent in late July and an identical version passed the House September 17 on the suspension calendar.

According to Gideon Aronoff, President and CEO of HIAS: “This new law helps the most vulnerable individuals, formerly persecuted in their home country and invited to the U.S., to live their lives with dignity. HIAS joins with the rest of the Jewish community in applauding the President and the courageous leadership shown by the legislation’s Congressional sponsors: Senators Gordon Smith (R-OR) and Herbert Kohl (D-WI), and Representatives Jim McDermott (D-WA) and Jerry Weller (R-IL).”

The two-year extension will help the approximately 30,000 elderly and disabled refugees who have already been cut off from the seven year limit and the more than 19,000 refugees and humanitarian migrants who are projected to lose their benefits in the coming years. These individuals fled persecution or torture in countries such as Iran, Russia, Iraq, Vietnam, and Somalia, and now are too elderly or disabled to support themselves. Some 40 percent of the refugees affected by the SSI cut-off are from the former Soviet Union; the majority of those are said to be Jews.

The SSI legislation comes at no cost to American taxpayers, as the funding for the legislation is offset.