HIAS Urges Passage of Bill Preserving Lifeline to Elderly and Disabled Refugees

Posted on Fri, Dec 03, 2010 at 11:43 am

(New York, NY) – As the United Nations and world community pause today to recognize the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, HIAS, the international migration agency of the American Jewish community, strongly urges Congress to take immediate action to protect disabled refugees by passing a one-year extension of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits so that vulnerable refugees can continue to receive their life-sustaining support for an additional year.

According to Melanie Nezer, HIAS Senior Director, US Programs & Advocacy: “Many SSI recipients fled persecution or torture in countries such as Iran, Russia, Iraq, Vietnam and Somalia, and now are too elderly or disabled to support themselves. HIAS urges Congress to act quickly and decisively to restore these benefits and prevent the unnecessary hardship that this already victimized population stands to suffer.”

SSI provides a modest stipend to help keep elderly, disabled, and blind individuals who are unable to support themselves financially from falling into poverty. Since a two-year SSI extension passed in 2008 expired on September 30, 2010, nearly 2,500 elderly and disabled refugees resettled in the U.S. have lost their SSI benefits, often their only means of subsistence.

Under the 1996 welfare reform legislation, refugees, asylees, and other humanitarian migrants were provided seven years to become citizens or lose their SSI benefits. Yet difficulties learning English, continuing trauma due to the persecution they suffered in their countries of origin, and inability to access resources have resulted in elderly and disabled refugees delaying naturalization and losing this essential life-sustaining benefit.