CLS has worked for years to ensure that asylees and refugees who are elderly or have severe disabilities that prevent them from working qualify for SSI. SSI, or Supplemental Security Income, provides subsistence benefits of $674/month. But asylees and refugees who are unable to become U.S. citizens within a certain time period lose their SSI.
In 2008, CLS worked with nationwide allies to successfully lobby the U.S. Congress to pass an extension of time so that refugees and asylees could continue to receive SSI while they applied for naturalization. Unfortunately, that legislation is set to sunset, or expire, on October 1, 2011.
Last week, however, Reps. Jim McDermott (D-WA) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) introduced a bill that would extend SSI for two more years for many asylees and refugees. CLS continues to push Congress to remove the artificial time limit for asylees and refugees to receive SSI. In the meantime, we are encouraged by this bill and are working hard to ensure that it is passed before thousands of asylees and refugees who are elderly or disabled lose their SSI at the end of September.
A press release issued by the National Immigration Law Center, a strong ally in these efforts, is below.
CONGRESSMEMBERS TAKE NEEDED STEPS TO PROTECT THOUSANDS OF ELDERLY AND DISABLED REFUGEES
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Reps. Jim McDermott (D-WA) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) have introduced legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives to protect refugees facing termination of their disability benefits (H.R. 2763, introduced Aug. 1). Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) is leading similar efforts in the Senate. The National Immigration Law Center (NILC) applauds these members of Congress for their work on behalf of this very special population.
The 1996 welfare law established time limits to refugee eligibility for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). These time limits were intended to provide an incentive for refugees to naturalize quickly and then maintain their eligibility for SSI as U.S. citizens. However, many refugees have difficulty achieving citizenship for the very reasons that make them eligible for SSI: advanced age, severe disability, and complex health care needs. They struggle with the new language and may be illiterate in their native tongue. Often they may not have the wherewithal to maneuver the application process.
In response to the recently introduced legislation, Ellen Battistelli, a NILC policy analyst, said: “Each year, thousands of individuals flee persecution in their home country and are promised safety and opportunity in the United States. Most of these refugees adjust to their new communities and achieve economic independence. A small number are elderly and disabled. These refugees are unable to work and are without sufficient support from friends or family to meet their basic expenses. They may suffer from isolation, poverty, and chronic health and emotional problems. For many, their only protection from hunger and homelessness is their eligibility for the modest SSI stipend, also available to elderly and disabled citizens.
“In 2008, President Bush signed bipartisan legislation extending the time limit. This law, unanimously approved by Congress, is set to expire on September 30, 2011. It is essential that Congress act quickly to ensure that these vulnerable refugees receive the protection and support promised in our invitation to move to this country.”
The text of the bill is available from http://thomas.loc.gov/home/thomas.php. The bill number is H.R. 2763.