Photo: Disabled Refugee Rights
Monday, after Sens. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Rand Paul (R-KY) reached an agreement, the Senate approved extending $36 million of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) to about 5,000 refugees, asylees, victims of human trafficking, and other humanitarian migrants who are elderly or disabled who have been cut off from a critical form of support.
In 1996 Congress passed welfare reform legislation which placed a time limit on the eligibility of refugees and humanitarian migrants who have not yet become U.S. citizens for SSI, a modest monthly income for individuals who are elderly or disabled and have few resources. However, Congress failed to extend SSI assistance to these vulnerable migrants by the September 30, 2011 deadline, an estimated 4,600 individuals have lost access to this assistance. This number grows by 250 individuals every month that Congress does not act.
After Sen. Paul voiced his concerns about the accuracy and accountability of the program with Sen. Schumer, the Senators were able to come to an agreement on how to address the broken system that is refugee welfare, and launch an investigation and hearings into how certain individuals, including the alleged terrorists apprehended earlier this year in Sen. Paul’s hometown of Bowling Green, Ky., were eligible for these benefits.
“Taxpayer-funded benefits to non-citizens is a luxury program afforded to refugees and managed so poorly that some of its beneficiaries have been found to be threats to the United States, as we saw earlier this year in Bowling Green. I cannot in good faith allow this bill to pass without first addressing the management of this program and ensure we are not supporting terrorists in our own backyards with tax dollars,” Sen. Paul said.
Sen. Schumer however, praised the program saying that the people it helps are those “who have aided American troops abroad in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Adding that for many of them, SSI is “their only lifeline to stay afloat.”
The New York Senator also pointed out that the program is paid for by the $30 fee paid by those who enter the U.S. green card lottery program held each year. Though only 50,000 visas are given out, in 2011, 8.7 million entries were received.