Today is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, an annual observance that “aims to promote a better understanding of disability issues with a focus on the rights of persons with disabilities and gains to be derived from the integration of persons with disabilities in every aspect of the political, social, economic and cultural life of their communities.”
LIRS has a special concern for persons with disabilities as a number of refugees that are resettled in the US have a disability. Caring for the most vulnerable of newcomers has always been a priority.
Currently this population has been struggling with even greater challenges. On October 1, 2010, close to three thousand elderly or permanently disabled refugees lost their major (or sole) source of income and face a bleak future. They rely on modest cash assistance called Supplemental Security Income (SSI) as their only source of income.
One of them is Elba Salazar, 73, a refugee from Cuba, who has been diagnosed with depression and has been prescribed medicine for Alzheimer’s disease. Without the modest cash assistance provided by the federal government, she will have to rely heavily on family and friends for even the basics like food and shelter. However, receiving financial assistance from family members and friends during such hard economic times will be extremely difficult.
Since 1996, recognizing that the law needed to give individuals more time to become naturalized U.S. citizens and therefore retain their SSI assistance, Congress has twice passed laws to temporarily extend the SSI eligibility period. However, for poor, elderly and disabled victims of persecution, becoming a U.S. citizen has not been easy. First, federal government backlogs delayed the adjudication of naturalization applications. Even though these backlogs have since been reduced, naturalization application fees are about the same amount of money as an individual would receive in monthly SSI income. Finally, these migrants have faced challenges passing the English and civics portion of the naturalization exam. Learning English is not easy, particularly for older and disabled individuals who may not be able to leave their homes to attend English language classes.
“The U.S. refugee program is a critical component of our nation’s commitment to providing lifesaving assistance for refugees,” said LIRS President and CEO Linda Hartke. “It would be tragic if the United States could not find a way to assist these particularly vulnerable migrants who are at risk of losing their assistance.”
The United States welcomes refugees as a part of our humanitarian commitment to protect those who have experienced persecution, torture, or other horrors. Join LIRS in asking Congress to ensure that these vulnerable refugees and migrants continue to receive these critical benefits.