CLS pushes for extension of SSI for asylees and refugees who are elderly or severely disabled

August 17, 2011

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. Read the rest of this entry »


Hundreds of refugees face the loss of SSI benefits in October without Congressional fix

July 11, 2011

Community Legal Services has worked nationally for many years to allow asylees, refugees, and other humanitarian immigrants who were elderly or severely disabled receive SSI benefits.   We successfully litigated a national class action lawsuit (Kaplan v. Chertoff) that settled in Spring 2008.  We worked in a coalition of hundreds of other organizations to pass the  SSI Extension for Elderly and Disabled Refugees Act (Public Law 110-328).  Now, however, without Congressional action quickly, this law will sunset, and many of these immigrants will once again lose their critical SSI benefits.

Starting on October 1, 2011, an estimated 2000 humanitarian immigrants will lose their SSI as a result of the expiration of this federal legislation.   Hundreds more will lose their SSI each month after that.

This law, which went into effect on October 1, 2008, temporarily allowed many humanitarian immigrants to receive up to 10 years of SSI from the date they obtained their status.  Previously, they were limited to only seven years.  But on October 1, 2011, the SSI Extension law will sunset and the limit will reset to seven years.

For advocates’ guide to working with immigrants faced with the termination of their SSI benefits, click here.

For more information about who these immigrants are, click here.

For a paper from the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) about the policy implications behind an extension, click here.

For a paper from NILC detailing the barriers that these immigrants face in naturalizing, click here.


Disabled & Elderly Pennsylvanians File Motion for Summary Relief in SSI Lawsuit

February 17, 2011

In November 2010, low-income Pennsylvanians who were disabled, blind, or elderly filed a class action law suit against the Department of Public Welfare when their SSI payments were reduced unlawfully.   The case is called Naylor v. Department of Public Welfare.

Earlier this week, lawyers for the class members filed a motion for summary relief.  In the motion, the class members laid out their full argument in detail.  To read the motion for summary relief, click here.

It will still be several months (at a minimum) before a judge rules in this case.  But stay tuned for the latest development.

Disabled and Elderly Sue Pennsylvania to Restore SSI Disability and Retirement Benefits

November 30, 2010

More than 359,000 low-income elderly, disabled, and blind Pennsylvanians who are unable to work sued Pennsylvania today in Commonwealth Court to restore their full disability and retirement benefits that were reduced earlier this year without legally required notice and reviews.

People who are severely disabled or blind, and those 65 years or older who can no longer work, who have minimal resources, and a limited work history, may receive federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) of $674 per month.  Since 1974, Pennsylvania has paid an additional monthly State Supplementary Payment (SSP) to all SSI recipients.  Last February, Pennsylvania reduced the SSP by 19% to $22.10 per individual.  Individuals receiving SSI and SSP combined now receive only 78% of the federal poverty level.

The lawsuit alleges that Pennsylvania reduced the SSP without regard to required rulemaking procedures and with only 13 days notice to those affected by the cut.  When an agency seeks to amend a regulation, as the Department of Public Welfare (DPW) did here, state law requires the agency to solicit public comment and to submit the proposed amendment to the state’s Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC).  The IRRC, whose members are appointed by legislative leaders and the governor, then evaluates the proposed amendment to determine whether it is in the public interest and is consistent with state statute.  DPW failed to do so, the lawsuit states.

This class action lawsuit, Constance Naylor v. Department of Public Welfare, is being filed by Community Legal Services, a legal aid law firm in Philadelphia, and Dechert LLP, providing pro bono counsel, and will be heard in Commonwealth Court.

“It is very difficult to live on SSI alone,” said Constance Naylor, a 60-year-old disabled Philadelphia resident affected by the cuts.  “For me, the reduction of $5.30 per month was significant.  It made an impact on my monthly budget.  It equals the cost of three SEPTA tokens, or two to three co-pays for my prescription medicine, or almost two loads of laundry.  I had to cut back in other places to replace this missing money.”

“When an agency amends a regulation, it must follow the law, whether the regulation affects the poor or the rich, the young or the poor, the disabled or the able-bodied” said Michael Froehlich, an attorney with Community Legal Services.  “This suit is simply asking Pennsylvania to follow its own laws when it amends its regulations.”

The lawsuit asks the Commonwealth Court to reinstate the SSP benefit to its earlier amount and refund the money to those whose SSP was reduced since February 2010.

To view the full petition, click here (pdf).

5,600 Refugees Lose Their SSI Benefits this Month

October 4, 2010

This month, up to 5,600 severely disabled and elderly refugees will lose their SSI checks.  Early last week,  Senator Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced a bill to extend this vital safety net lifeline, but unfortunately, Congress adjourned prior to voting on this extension.

Community Legal Services has worked for years helping low-income refugees and asylees who are too disabled or elderly to work.  For many of these humanitarian immigrants, monthly SSI payments of approximately $700 per month are the only income they have to pay for rent, utilities, and other costs of daily living.

In 2006, CLS filed a national class action lawsuit on behalf of 60,000 immigrants.  The settlement in that lawsuit, called Kaplan v. Chertoff,  required the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service to expedite the citizenship applications for immigrants subject to the time limit on SSI benefits.  In 2008, CLS joined a national coalition of advocacy organizations and successfully lobbied for a two-year extension of SSI for these immigrants.  Sadly, despite national media attention and the efforts of dozens of advocacy groups, that extension has now ended for many of these refugees.

CLS hopes to renew its efforts to obtain an extension of SSI eligibility for affected refugees when Congress returns after the election.  In the meantime, for more information, check out this publication by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.  If you or someone you know has been affected by this cut off, you can find more information about your rights by reading our Advocates’ Guide to the October 2010 Cut-off.

A video produced by Michael Wong, a U/Penn Law Student, about Shmul Kaplan, the named plaintiff in the 2006 class action law suit can be viewed below.

Faith community protests SSI cuts

February 3, 2010

Earlier, we wrote about the cuts in SSI benefits proposed by the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare.  Although the cuts went into effect this week, a growing coalition continues to push to rescind the cuts and restore the money to these most vulnerable Pennsylvanians.

Recently, this issue has received some press, including a column in the Inquirer, a story by the Associated Press, an editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer, and an editorial in the Philadelphia Daily News.

Here’s how the Inquirer’s editorial board put it:

As of this week, several hundred thousand elderly poor and disabled Pennsylvanians will be nickel-and-dimed to help balance the state’s $28 billion budget.

That’s wrong, and all the more unconscionable given a state budget that benefited fat cats while resorting to an expansion of casino gambling to raise revenue.

With such skewed priorities in place, the SSI cuts appear cruel and unnecessary. Although the cutbacks are set to start today, they should be rescinded as soon as possible.

Wouldn’t you just know, the SSI reductions only came to light recently. But now that the secret is out, there’s an understandable clamor growing from advocates and some lawmakers to remedy this insult to the elderly poor and disabled.

Tonight, the Philadelphia faith community is holding a Funeral Procession for Justice to voice opposition to the cuts.  The march begins at 5pm at Broad Street Ministries at 315 South Broad Street.  More information is here.

Dept of Public Welfare to cut SSI benefits for 360,000 Pennsylvanians

January 20, 2010

Last week, the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare announced that it would reduce SSI benefits for 360,000 low-income Pennsylvanians.  SSI is a federal program for the severely disabled, blind, and elderly.  DPW supplements the federal SSI amount with $27.40 for an individual and $43.70 for a couple.  But starting next month, DPW intends to reduce this amount by 20% in an effort to save $23 million per year.  SSI is already only 75% of the poverty level and this year, there was no cost of living increase.

DPW is currently seeking comments on this proposal.  Interesting in making yourself heard?  Send comments to Edward J. Zogby, Bureau of Policy, Room 431, Health and Welfare Building, Harrisburg, PA 17105, or at  Comments are due by February 15, 2010.