Feb. 13, 2007 – Tucked into the Bush administrationâ€™s 2008 budget proposal is a measure that could offer a modest reprieve to refugees in the US who face the loss of federal subsistence aid.
Refugees and immigrants offered asylum in the US are eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) if they have limited incomes and qualify as being elderly or too disabled to work. But these benefits expire after seven years unless naturalized citizenship has been obtained.
The administrationâ€™s budget proposal would extend the time limit to eight years, at least until 2010.
But the progressive think tank Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) is calling on Congress to eliminate the time limit on SSI benefits altogether for "humanitarian" immigrants. The Center said a time-limit extension should only be used as a "stopgap" to prevent elderly and disabled immigrants from losing their benefits while legislation to end the time limit is enacted.
In a report published last week, the CBPP said putting a time limit on SSI eligibility for humanitarian immigrants is "inhumane."
"To allow such immigrants to remain in the United States but deny them subsistence aid when they are too disabled to work or are elderly and have little or no work history in the United Statesâ€¦ puts them at risk of becoming utterly destitute," the report said.
The CBPP also argued that seven years is not enough time for immigrants to naturalize. According to a 2005 report by the Department of Homeland Securityâ€™s Office of Immigration Statistics, the median number of years of residence between legal immigration and naturalization is eight.
Along with a lengthy naturalization process, applicants face application fees. On February 1, the Department of Homeland Security proposed to increase the application fee to over $400 â€“ which amounts to two-thirds of an individualâ€™s monthly income on SSI.
The Social Security Administrationâ€™s "very rough" estimates predict that 4,500 people will lose their SSI benefits in 2007 and that 4,000 individuals will see their SSI benefits suspended each year after for nine years.