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HIAS urges extension of refugee benefits

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WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society urged Congress not to cut off funding for Supplemental Security Income, which helps elderly and disabled refugees and other immigrants pay for food and shelter.

SSI funding will run out Sept. 30. HIAS urged Congress to extend funding because many refugees who are Jewish and from the former Soviet Union and Iran rely on the money for food and other necessities.

The program, which provides cash for basic needs to the aged or disabled, is available to U.S. citizens. But as a result of welfare reform enacted in 1996, refugees are eligible only on a temporary basis. Most refugees are able to naturalize; some cannot due to age or disability.

If SSI is not extended, refugees who have received funding for years will no longer be eligible unless they have a naturalization application pending. If they are unable to become a citizen, they will be ineligible for aid.

HIAS officials asserted that failing to extend SSI would be a violation of international law under which refugees must be accorded the same treatment as citizens and naturalized immigrants when it comes to receiving public assistance.

"It is essential that Congress and the administration move immediately to renew the SSI benefits extension and, ultimately, to delink benefits from citizenship,” said Gideon Aronoff, president and CEO of HIAS, in a statement. “Without this, we are leaving our most vulnerable residents behind and not living up to our nation’s promise of providing refuge to the persecuted and dispossessed."

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