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Discontinued Social Security Benefits Likely for Elderly and Disabled Refugees

"I don't want to complain against the United States because this country has helped me immensely, but the reality is that I may be homeless," says Eustacio Guevara, a disabled Cuban man living in Miami.

Guevara came to the United States after successfully gaining entry on the basis that he was a victim of political persecution. Guevara claims he served 14 years in Cuban prison and was beaten on a regular basis.

Guevara began receiving monthly Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits because he was certified as blind and disabled.

Now, after more than ten years in the U.S., Guevara may lose those monthly benefits checks, which represent a significant portion of his income.

The law currently requires that elderly or disabled refugees gain U.S. citizenship within 7 years of entry into the U.S.-- a requirement that until now Guevara was unaware of. The Social Security Administration claims that 3,800 elderly or disabled refugees could lose their SSI benefits by October 1, 2010, unless Congress extends the citizenship requirement. But according to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, 37,000 people could lose their benefits over a ten-year period if Congress does nothing to change the situation.

A brief review of reader comments in the cited Miami Herald article is illustrative of the typical political divide on Social Security.

Some believe people who have not paid into the system should not receive benefits. Others think that the system is not on the verge of collapse as some commentators have led the public to believe; and, as such, people who are less fortunate, like the elderly and the disabled, should continue to receive benefits.

Regardless of where one falls on the political divide, the reality for an elderly refugee like Guevara (who is more than 60 years old) is that if his SSI benefits are cut off, his ability to provide food and clothing for himself and for his wife--as well as pay rent for their Miami apartment--will be severely hampered.

For now, Guevara is relying on the efforts of a local advocacy organization to show that he has made a good faith effort to apply for and obtain U.S. citizenship. Guevara has also made an appeal for reconsideration with the Administration. In the meantime, Guevara will keep his fingers crossed.


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