Why Should We Give SSI Assistance to Refugees?

Google the words “immigrants and refugees” and a storm of documents will appear, mostly about advocacy organizations. Now add the words “and benefits” and watch what happens. A flood of comments will show up about the pros and cons of extending benefits to refugees – especially in light of our nation’s bleak economic situation. Who are these people, anyway? And why should the United States provide assistance to them for even a limited period of time?

According to a recent editorial in the Lexington Herald Leader, they are “elderly Cubans who spent years in Castro’s prisons, Jews who were persecuted in Russia, Hmong who fought with the U.S. in Southeast Asia, Congolese who fled genocide, and victims of torture and sex trafficking.”

Under current law, the Social Security Administration provides a base payment of $674/ month ( the current rate for SSI) to individuals who are unable to work because of age, blindness or permanent disability. SSI is not usually available to non-citizens, but Congress made a limited exception for refugees and immigrants people who entered the country legally, often with the sponsorship of local groups, for humanitarian reasons.

The catch? By law, this assistance only lasts for a set period of time, during which these folks are expected to become citizens. Some of them, the elderly and disabled in particular, haven’t achieved this in time. The issue currently before Congress is whether we should extend that time period. Read more.