Elderly and Disabled Immigrants May Lose Financial Aid

Alexandra Zavis, Los Angeles Times, August 22, 2010

Some of the poorest elderly and disabled people admitted to this country on humanitarian grounds will lose their cash assistance in October unless they have naturalization applications pending, federal officials say.

Letters have been sent to 3,800 recipients of Supplemental Security Income, including some in California, warning them that their eligibility for the federal program could end Sept. 30, said Lowell Kepke, a spokesman for the Social Security Administration.

The deadline has caused concern among refugee advocates, who point out that some of these legal immigrants aren’t able to pass the citizenship exam or can’t yet apply because of delays processing their green cards.

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Most immigrants are required to show that they have a job, family or other means of support in the U.S., but that is not the case for people admitted through humanitarian programs. They were once offered unrestricted access to the Supplemental Security Income program, which provides monthly checks to elderly, blind and disabled people with little or no income.

That access was reduced to seven years when Congress decided in 1996 to require citizenship for many federal benefits. Supporters of the change argued that it would encourage humanitarian immigrants to become citizens.

A two-year extension was approved with bipartisan support in 2008 for those who had already been in the country seven years without becoming citizens. They can receive one more year of benefits if they have an application pending or are waiting to take the oath of citizenship, Kepke said.

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