In a recent editorial, the New York Times called on Congress and the President to protect welfare benefits for elderly and disabled refugees living in the United States. Unless Congress acts, on October 1, 2010, about 3,800 refugees–elderly and disabled people who have suffered persecution in places like Iraq, Somalia, and Cuba–will lose welfare benefits such as Supplemental Security Income and cash assistance. These benefits are critical for the refugees who often have no other means of support.
Currently, refugees are eligible for up to seven years of benefits. After five years in the U.S., refugees can apply for United States citizenship, and once they are citizens, continue to receive benefits. However, many refugees are unable to become citizens because they cannot meet the English language requirement or their naturalization applications are delayed.
The Times editorial concludes:
If any shreds of bipartisanship still exist in Washington, along with the belief that the United States should remain a true haven for those fleeing persecution, then Congress and President Obama will renew their support for a bill to extend benefits to elderly and disabled refugees. In time, they should adopt the permanent solution: finally delinking naturalization and artificial time limits from the granting of lifesaving assistance to these refugees.
In difficult economic times, Congress may have a hard time justifying the (relatively small) cost of assisting these needy refugees. However, we have already committed to resettling them, and they have been part of our community for some years. As the editorial opines, the appropriate solution is to delink citizenship from financial assistance. Until that happens, Congress should fulfill our commitment and protect these vulnerable individuals.