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Elderly Refugees Face Loss of Access to Federal Aid

Up to 11,000 refugees will lose access to federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments next week after an eligibility extension begins to run out, The New Mexico Independent reported today.

The recession has made adjusting to life in the U.S. difficult for refugees, as even younger refugees struggle to find work. But it is particularly tough for those who cannot work — which is why SSI payments are so important. The extension was available to elderly refugees — 65 or older — or the seriously disabled who fled persecution in their native countries and have little or no income or assets in the U.S.

The system was designed so the elderly and disabled could receive benefits until they have been in the U.S. enough time to become naturalized citizens and receive government support. The naturalization process is supposed to take five years, but backlogs have led to some refugees losing benefits before they are eligible for other help. Congress attempted to solve this problem by temporarily extending refugees’ SSI limit in 2008, to nine years for those actively pursuing citizenship. But a recent report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities warns these extensions will begin to expire Oct. 1:

“Congress should act quickly to avert the severe hardship that this small but vulnerable group would face,” the report states. “Lawmakers should also consider going beyond temporary stopgap measures and adopting permanent legislation that recognizes these refugees’ unique circumstances.”

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