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Gillibrand Pushes Refugee Aid Extension for Elderly and Disabled

About 3,800 elderly and disabled refugees, set to lose their federal aid tomorrow, could earn reprieve today if Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is successful in pushing an extension that would give them another year to gain citizenship. The motion could be passed by unanimous consent at the end of the Senate session — but only if all 100 senators agree to approve it.

Refugees are one of the few non-citizen groups eligible to receive welfare, but current law states they can only receive Supplemental Security Income for seven years after they enter the U.S. The idea is that after this period of time they will have naturalized — a process that takes a minimum of five years — and can apply for government aid as U.S. citizens. But many are unable to pass citizenship tests, pay fees or overcome administrative hurdles in time to gain citizenship within the seven years. In response, President George W. Bush successfully pushed for a two-year eligibility extension in 2008.

The extension was a good start, refugee advocates say, but many refugees need more time to earn citizenship. And the benefits will be cut off for more refugees in coming months, with an estimated 11,000 refugees expected to lose SSI benefits within the next 13 months.

If passed, Gillibrand’s extension would give elderly and disabled refugees who were granted the 2008 extension one additional year to become citizens. But it would also mean continuing to aid refugees who fled persecution or torture in their native countries, many of whom could be unable to pay rent or buy food without SSI money.

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