Proposal Regarding Legal Immigrants
Would Violate Budget Agreement and Cause Hardship
On June 10, the House Ways and Means Committee adopted a legislative package that violates the part of the budget agreement related to restorations of benefits for legal immigrants. This package significantly reduce the number of low-income legal immigrants permitted to receive SSI over the next five years, as compared to the budget agreement.
Although the provision adopted by the Ways and Means Committee maintains SSI for some elderly legal immigrants now on SSI who are not covered by the budget agreement because they are not disabled, it would protect fewer low-income immigrants over time than the budget agreement would. In addition, those immigrants whom the Committee leaves out but the budget agreement covers are in poorer health, are more vulnerable, and are less able to naturalize than the immigrants to whom the Committee extends protection but the budget agreement does not.
The Budget Agreement
The budget agreement and the budget resolution include $9.7 billion over five years to restore SSI and Medicaid to legal immigrants with disabilities. Both the agreement and the Committee reports that accompany the budget resolution explicitly state that these funds are to be used to maintain SSI for two groups of immigrants.
Low-income disabled immigrants who were on SSI, including elderly SSI recipients who qualify as disabled, on August 22, 1996, the date the welfare law was signed.
Low-income immigrants who were residing in the United States on August 22, 1996 and were not on SSI on that date, but who either have become disabled since then or become disabled in the future.
How the Ways and Means Package Differs From the Budget Agreement
The Ways and Means package eliminates the second group entirely. Those who were residing here on August 22, 1996, were not on SSI then, but become disabled after that date would be barred from SSI. Legal immigrants who may have been living in the country for many years will not be able to qualify for SSI if they become disabled, no matter how precarious their financial situation becomes.
More Immigrants Would Be Harmed
Under The Ways and Means Provision
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that under the budget agreement, close to 100,000 legal immigrants now receiving benefits those who are elderly but either are found not to be disabled or do not seek to requalify as disabled would initially lose benefits. This number would dwindle over time, however, because some of these individuals would qualify as disabled as they grow older, some would naturalize, and some would die.
The Ways and Means package would cover these immigrants but would deny benefits to those who were in the United States on August 22, 1996, were not on SSI at that time, and subsequently became disabled. The number of such immigrants who would qualify for benefits in FY 1998 under the budget agreement but be denied benefits under the Committee plan also is close to 100,000, according to CBO estimates. The CBO estimates thus show that the budget agreement and the Committee package would result in approximately the same total number of legal immigrants receiving SSI in FY 1998.
After FY 1998, however, the number of nondisabled immigrants who were on the SSI rolls on August 22, 1996 and are not protected under the budget agreement would decline each year, while the number of immigrants whom the budget agreement would serve, but the Committee provision would not, would grow steadily each year. As a result, CBO estimates that the Committee provision results in fewer immigrants receiving SSI every year after FY 1999 than would receive SSI under the budget agreement.
CBO estimates by FY 2002, at least 50,000 fewer legal immigrants would be served under the Committee provision than under the budget agreement. CBO also estimates that this feature of the Committee provision would cause a net loss in SSI benefits over the next five years, compared to the budget agreement.
A final point is that when compared with the budget agreement, the Ways and Means provision not only provides assistance to fewer legal immigrants over the next five years but also directs its assistance to a less vulnerable group of immigrants than the budget agreement does. Those who would be served under the budget agreement but not under the Ways and Means provision are severely and permanently disabled. By contrast, those who would be served under the Ways and Means provision but not under the budget agreement are largely relatively healthy individuals. The group that would be aided under the budget agreement but not under the Ways and Means provision is more frail and less able to naturalize than the group helped under the Ways and Means provision but not under the budget agreement.
The Ways and Means package covers some immigrants whom the budget agreement does not cover. Those whom the Ways and Means package does cover but the agreement does not are elderly immigrants who were on the rolls on August 22, 1996 and are not disabled. The net effect of the Ways and Means package, however, is to cut back over time on the number of low-income immigrants protected.
The Social Security Administration estimates that the budget agreement would maintain SSI for 80 percent of the legal immigrants now receiving it who otherwise would be cut off due to the welfare law. Under the budget agreement, all immigrants currently classified as "disabled" would be protected. SSA estimates that two-thirds of the legal immigrants now classified as "aged" also would be protected because they would seek continued assistance and qualify as disabled. (For example, nearly all of those over 75 are likely to qualify, as well as those between 65 and 75 who have significant physical or mental impairments.)
The current recipients who would not qualify are individuals aged 65 and over (mostly between 65 and 75) who are relatively healthy. Because they do not suffer from a disability, they are the portion of the SSI caseload that is most able to naturalize. Those who naturalize can regain eligibility for SSI. In addition, the individuals who would lose SSI under the budget agreement would regain SSI eligibility if their health deteriorates and they become disabled. Many would requalify as they grow older.
The Committee package would maintain SSI eligibility for elderly SSI recipients who are not currently disabled and consequently would not be protected immediately under the budget agreement. But the Committee package would, over the next five years, exclude significantly larger numbers of legal immigrants whom the budget agreement would cover.
First, the Committee denies SSI to legal immigrants who were residing in the United States on August 22, 1996 and became disabled after that date. This is a direct breach of the budget agreement, which states that these individuals should be eligible for SSI if they become disabled and have low income.
Under the Committee package, legal immigrants who were aged 63 or 64 on August 22, 1996 and suffer strokes or other severely disabling conditions after August 22, 1996 (such as Alzheimer's disease or Parkinson's disease) could never receive SSI. Thus, legal immigrants who resided here on August 22, 1996 and became both elderly and disabled in the years ahead would have no safety net. CBO estimates that by next year, close to 100,000 legal immigrants who resided here last August but were not on SSI at that time will be disabled and low-income. These people would be covered under the budget agreement but shut out under the Committee's provision. The number of poor disabled immigrants injured in this way under the Committee plan would grow larger in subsequent years.
Similarly, a working poor immigrant family that was residing here on August 22, 1996 and in which a young child becomes paralyzed in a car accident after that date would be denied SSI for their child. In some cases, their child also would be denied Medicaid as a consequence.
Second, the Committee package excludes legal immigrants who were here on August 22, 1996 and were severely disabled at that time but were not on SSI then because they were receiving other support, such as from a relative or a sponsor, or because they were spending down their own limited resources. Under the budget agreement, these disabled immigrants would be able to qualify for SSI if their sponsor or supporting relative died or became impoverished and thus ceased providing much support to the disabled immigrant or if an immigrant who was spending down his or her resources depleted those resources. But the Committee package would deny SSI to these disabled immigrants. Under the Committee's approach, these immigrants could end up destitute and with no place to turn. They would be penalized for trying to get by as long as possible without public aid.
Third, the Committee provision would exclude low-income legal immigrants who were in the United States on August 22, 1996 and already were disabled at that time but were not on SSI because they were continuing to work for as long as they could before their impairment deteriorated and made work impossible. Under the budget agreement, these individuals would become eligible for SSI when they could no longer work. The Committee provision would penalize them for having continued to work as long as they could and would leave them with no safety net when their disability became severe.
The Committee provision would cause some of those to whom it denies SSI also to lose Medicaid. In some states, most legal immigrants who are terminated from SSI will be terminated from Medicaid, as well; these are states in which SSI recipients are automatically eligible for Medicaid but there are few other ways that low-income elderly and disabled individuals can qualify for Medicaid. In these states, termination from SSI generally means termination from Medicaid, too. The Committee provision consequently would leave substantial numbers of poor legal immigrants who are or become severely disabled and who have high medical bills as a result with no health insurance.
Other budget agreement analyses:
Analysis of the Tax Cuts Authorized in the Budget Agreement
Medicaid and Child Health Provisions of the Budget Agreement