Refugees in Kentucky may lose benefits without Congressional action

The Lexington Herald-LeaderAugust 26, 2011 

Each year, hundreds of refugees come to Kentucky with the approval of the federal government to escape persecution in their home countries.

Although they're here legally, up to 605 elderly and disabled refugees in the state stand to lose their Supplemental Security Income benefits if Congress doesn't act by Sept. 30, according to local advocates.

"It's a pretty profound consequence," said Rich Seckel, director of the Kentucky Equal Justice Center in Lexington.

SSI is a federal benefit program that provides a $674 base monthly income to people who can't work because of their advanced age or disability or blindness, and because they don't have other resources.

Though many people who aren't citizens are not eligible for SSI, the federal government makes an exception for refugees. But to keep SSI, the refugees must seek citizenship within seven years of their arrival in the United States.

Many of the refugees who could lose their benefits next month are unable to successfully take and pass citizenship tests in English because of their disabilities, according to Rev. Patrick Delahanty, Executive Director of the Frankfort-based Catholic Conference of Kentucky.

According to the Social Security Administration, there are as many as 605 refugees in Kentucky who are at risk of losing benefits, said Ellen Sittenfeld Battistelli, a policy analyst for the National Immigration Law Center.

Advocates have asked for help from U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell and U.S. Rep. Geoff Davis — Republican members of Kentucky's federal delegation and key players in any response by Congress to the problem.

In letters sent to the lawmakers in May, Delahanty told them about a 15-year-old girl who came to Louisville as a small child and has lost benefits.

"With her family, she fled persecution in their former Congolese village, where their lives had been threatened," a letter said.

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