Kentucky Refugees Could Lose SSI Benefits

by Devin Katayama on August 29, 2011

Refugees on Social Security Income in Kentucky could lose their benefits by Sept. 30 if Congress doesn’t extend the time refugees have to earn citizenship. But an extension would only temporarily fix a larger problem.

President Barack Obama included a two-year extension of benefits in his FY 2012 budget, but due to delays in Congress that money has not yet been guaranteed.

Refugees on SSI have seven years to earn citizenship before their benefits end, said Sherry Stanley Escobar with Catholic Charities, a state  resettling agency.

“But if they do not have citizenship within seven years then they will lose those benefits. So in the case of older refugees since they’re not employable that really affects this population specifically,” she said.

Some refugees on SSI are limited in their ability to pass a citizenship test, especially those over 65 who often arrive with limited English and no formal education, she said.

“It’s very, very difficult to learn a second language. They’re not really part of these programs that are targeted to employables so they’re not required to attend English as a second language classes and participate in employment assistance and other programs that other employables are required to participate in,” she said.

Sen. Mitch McConnell’s, R-KY, office released a letter citing the Social Security Administration saying “605 time-limited SSI recipients will see their benefits end this year, the bulk of whom are refugees. Only 24 have self-reported that they are filing for citizenship.”

Even with the extension it’s difficult for many refugees on SSI to pass a citizenship test, said Patrick Delahanty, the executive director of Catholic Conference of Kentucky. Two extra years will help with keeping benefits but it still doesn’t speak to the larger problem of educating this population, many who have disabilities or that lack the mental capacity to study for the test, he said. Refugees can apply for a medical waiver to bypass taking the test, but that process is cumbersome, said Delahanty.

Although a bi-partisan effort extended those services in the past, the likelihood that it will be extended again remains uncertain, said advocates.

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