NCSL Letter in Support of Continuiing SSI to Certain Refugees and Asylees

September 22, 2011

The Honorable Harry Reid                              The Honorable Mitch McConnell
Senate Majority Leader                                                Senate Minority Leader
522 Hart Senate Office Building                                  317 Russell House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510                                 Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Majority Leader Reid and Minority Leader McConnell:

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) strongly supports legislation, which continues Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for elderly and disabled refugees. This legislation is fully paid for by charging a $25 fee for diversity visa applications. The fee not only pays for the SSI extension for elderly and disabled refugees, it also discourages fraudulent applications for the diversity visa program. 

It is important that eligible refugees, asylees, and humanitarian migrants not lose their SSI  benefits on October 1. Extending SSI benefits for these elderly and disabled refugees serves humanitarian purposes and removes a cost shift to states. States continue to address sizeable budget gaps that have compelled state lawmakers to make dramatic programmatic and revenue changes in order to ensure balanced general fund budgets. 

Currently, when an elderly or disabled refugee flees persecution and comes to the United States, their eligibility for financial support from the SSI program is limited to allow time to navigate the citizenship process.  This group of vulnerable elderly and disabled face significant barriers to naturalization. 

This important extension will increase the time period that elderly and disabled refugees are eligible for SSI benefits and would restore benefits for roughly 4,600 of these most vulnerable refugees.  The federal government determines who is a refugee and provides SSI to prevent the states from bearing the unfair burden of providing for the health and welfare of these individuals when they are settled in the states.     

NCSL’s Refugee Assistance and Immigration Reform policy has long called for adequate federal support to avoid a cost-shift to states. Extending SSI benefits is a positive step towards addressing the needs of the many humanitarian refugees who find sanctuary in the United States each year. 

Sincerely,                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

William T. Pound
Executive Director, NCSL

CC: Members of the U.S. Senate