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SSI Refugees Lose Benefits

September 27, 2010

Author: Catherine M. Callery (Kate)| Louise M. Tarantino

The temporary relief provided to refugees whose seven year time limit for SSI (Supplemental Security Income) eligibility was just that – temporary. Advocates will recall previous articles outlining  the “SSI Extension for Elderly and Disabled Refugees Act” (“Extension Act,” Public Law 110-328) signed into law on September 30, 2008, by then President Bush.  The legislation temporarily extends the eligibility of elderly and disabled refugees, asylees and various other groups of humanitarian based immigrants for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) from seven years to nine years.  The time limit will automatically go back to seven years on September 30, 2011. 

Many of those refugees helped by the Extension Act, however, have depleted their extensions.  According to recent estimates, approximately 3,000 beneficiaries are slated to be cut off SSI on October 1 because they have reached their nine year limit.  An additional 1,800 beneficiaries will be cut off sometime in fiscal year 2011.  Another 5,000 beneficiaries will be cut off at the end of fiscal 2011, when the temporary nine year limit will revert to seven years.

To add insult to injury, a number of refugees and asylees whose SSI benefits were automatically continued under the two year extension legislation but who were later determined by the local district office to have been ineligible, have been receiving overpayment notices.  Negotiations are under way with SSA regarding blanket waivers of these overpayments.  Such a waiver policy would be justified since the overpayments were entirely due to the automatic continuation of SSI benefits after October of 2008 without a determination that the individual asylee or refugee met all the requirements of the extension statute. 

These overpayments are largely the result of three factors, none of which were the responsibility of the individuals whose benefits continued.  The first contributing factor is the complexity of the law itself, particularly the immigration related requirements that Congress imposed.  For example, in order to be eligible under the provisions of the extension, a refugee or asylee had to have been a lawful permanent resident for less than six years on the date of enactment (October 1, 2008) unless he or she was at least 70 years old or had a citizenship application pending at that time.  The second factor contributing to these overpayments was that it took SSA more than six months after enactment of the extension to issue POMS advising the local districts how to implement the law.  And finally, it took many local districts more than a year to actually call in the refugees and asylees whose benefits had been automatically extended for interviews to determine if they were in fact eligible.  The benefits of those who have been found belatedly not to have met the immigration related requirements of the extension are now being terminated and overpayment notices are being sent.  Even worse, most if not all of these individuals against whom overpayment claims are being made would have been eligible for Safety Net benefits if their SSI benefits had been terminated at the seven year limit.

If you have clients coming into your offices with these overpayment notices, please notify Barbara Weiner in the Albany office of the Empire Justice Center at bweiner@empirejustice.org.  She would appreciate copies of the overpayments notices so that she can make SSA aware of the people facing these claims.

 





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