HIAS Lauds Today's House Passage of SSI Extension: Measure will help thousands of elderly and disabled Jewish refugees

Posted on Wed, Sep 17, 2008 at 15:46 pm

(Washington, D.C.)– HIAS, the international migration agency of the American Jewish community, applauds the House of Representatives for passing the SSI Extension for Elderly and Disabled Refugees Act today. The legislation now moves to the White House for the President’s signature.

Once the legislation is signed into law, tens of thousands of humanitarian migrants – including aged and/or disabled Jewish refugees from the former Soviet Union – who have lost their Supplemental Security Income (SSI) will qualify for two additional years of benefits. The new law also provides individuals, who have exercised their best efforts to become U.S. citizens and still have pending applications, with one additional year of benefits.

“Today’s action in the House of Representatives is the most encouraging step taken in recent years to support thousands of the most vulnerable refugees, including those from the FSU,” says Gideon Aronoff, President & CEO of HIAS. “This legislation, which garnered bipartisan support in the House and the Senate and by the President, will provide a lifeline to so many who are destitute and suffering. We especially want to express appreciation to sponsors of the House bill, Representatives Jim McDermott (D-WA) and Jerry Weller (R-IL).”

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 began preventing most refugees and aslyees from completing their naturalization process in the mandated seven years.

The two-year extension will help the approximately 30,000 elderly and disabled refugees who have already been cut off due to the seven-year limit, as well as 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, and 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.