Elderly Refugees Should Not Lose SSI

(August 2011)

NSCLC has taken a leadership role in championing the extension of eligibility for Supplement Security Income (SSI) benefits to elderly refugees, asylees and other humanitarian immigrants. Many of these older adults have already lost benefits and thousands more will lose them if Congress does not act by the end of this month.

Since 1998, refugees, asylees and other humanitarian immigrants have been subject to a seven-year time limit on their SSI benefits. Subsequent legislation extended eligibility for an additional two years to allow people more time to naturalize. However, this eligibility is set to sunset at the end of September. Most of those who will be cut off are of advanced age, with limited or no ability to speak English. They also lack a support network. The majority of these beneficiaries come from Cuba (26%), the former Soviet Republics (14%), Iran (11%), Iraq (10%), Somalia (8%) and Bhutan (5%).

Due to advanced age or disability, these individuals are unable to work and have little or no income or assets. SSI provides the income floor that keeps these individuals from falling into even more extreme poverty or homelessness. Receipt of SSI benefits also enables them to receive health care through the Medicaid program.

Allowing SSI benefits to expire will have detrimental human costs. Where SSI is not available, it will likely result in increased reliance on homeless shelters, emergency rooms and other community supports already stressed in the economic downturn. Extending SSI benefits for this vulnerable group is of grave importance not only to beneficiaries themselves but also for the sake of our local communities and our society at large.

Having fled persecution in their countries of origin, they rely on SSI benefits to survive in this country. We should not allow them to fall into even more extreme poverty or homelessness.

A bill, H.R. 2763, has been introduced in the House by Rep. Jim McDermott (D. WA) and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R. FL) to address this problem.  It would continue the additional two year period of eligibility through 2013.  Legislation has yet to be introduced in the Senate, although a bill is expected soon.  Only three weeks remain for Congress to take action to avoid an unnecessary tragedy.

See a Lexington Herald-Leader (KY) editorial on this issue.


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