House Approves Bill to Aid Survivors of the Holocaust

The House has approved a bill that would eliminate reparations received from West Germany by Holocaust survivors from the income counted to determine eligibility for Social Security payments.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D. Cal.) introduced the legislation after a resident in his district, Felicia Grunfeder, was denied Supplemental Security Income (SSI) because her reparation payment from West Germany put her annual income $648 over the eligibility level of $1,752.

“I do not believe that when Congress passed the Social Security Act it intended to deny welfare and health benefits to a poor person who otherwise would be eligible were she not receiving token payments from Germany for the tortures she underwent at the hands of the Nazis,” Waxman told the House.

Burt Hoffman, a spokesman for Waxman, said that although the Senate could not pass the bill because of the tight schedule before ajournment, the legislation has no opposition and should be approved when the new Congress convenes early next year.

SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION RULING

Grunfeder suffers from psychological disorders requiring supervision and treatment. Her doctors have attributed her condition to the experience of growing up amidst the atrocities of the Holocaust. She began receiving SSI payments because of her psychological disorders in 1974 but in 1980 the Social Security Administration learned she had been receiving reparation from West Germany since 1974 and ruled that she was ineligible for the benefits.

Grunfeder’s appeals to the Social Security Administration and then to a U.S. District Court were dismissed. The decision was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco, but she has since won a rehearing.

ARGUMENTS BY THE AJCONGRESS

The American Jewish Congress filed a friend of the court brief on her behalf, arguing that reparations payments should be exempted as it is now done with personal injury awards and other tort damages received as compensation for civil loss. The Internal Revenue Service follows this principle in exempting restitution payments from income taxes, according to the AJCongress.

The AJCongress brief argues that reparations from the German government to Holocaust victims for “damages to body, mind and spirit,” is made “in recognition of a moral obligation to make amends” and is not “income” as defined by Congress when it passed Social Security legislation.

As a child, Grunfeder lived in the Warsaw Ghetto. Later she was separated from her mother and was taken to the Lager-Rote-Rose concentration camp. Her father and other members of her family were murdered by the Nazis.

The House Ways and Means Committee has estimated that about 4,000 people are in the same situation as Grunfeder.

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