In just four days, at the end of this month, special benefits will run out for up to 4,600 refugees and assylees who fled persecution and affliction and were invited to live in America. These people are extremely poor, often disabled or very old, and because of that, they are unable to go through the process to become naturalized citizens.
So, they were given special dispensation to receive benefits from the Social Security Administration. But those benefits run out September 30. And all summer long, immigration advocates have been trying to get the attention of a few good people in Congress to extend benefits for this tiny, but very needy population.
In a Congress that won’t even offer disaster aid to its own citizens, you can imagine how well this humanitarian gesture is playing.
When I wrote about this last July, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, the New York Democrat, was eager to wave the flag for these refugees and promised to push for an extension of benefits.
“As Americans, we are proud to offer sanctuary for those fleeing war, violence and persecution,” she said in a statement to the Forward. That was then. Now, Gillibrand’s office won’t return repeated phone calls and emails, and seems to have gone into hiding on the issue.
Senator Charles Schumer, the other New York Democrat, originally tried to get a 10-year extension of benefits, and figured out how to pay for it with an additional fee on visas, a plan which received the blessing of the Congressional Budget Office. But that solid fix also has been dropped, in favor of a one-year extension that needs to be approved in the next few days.
It bears repeating: These benefits are not for the “illegal aliens” so many politicians love to hate. They are not for people who somehow are refusing to become citizens. They are for poor, old, infirm refugees whom we have invited into our country, and who just need a little help from the federal government to survive. Why offer them sanctuary at all if we can’t do that?
Jane Eisner, a pioneer in journalism, became editor-in-chief of the Forward in 2008, the first woman to hold the position at the influential Jewish national news organization. Under her leadership, the Forward readership has grown significantly and it has won numerous regional and national awards for its original journalism, in print and online.