"Through no fault of their own, these
individuals have not been granted U.S. citizenship and may lose an
important safety net," Gov. Blagojevich said. "With the legislation
I'm signing today [July 15], elderly refugees and people seeking
asylum will be able to continue getting the help they need while
they pursue full citizenship. The sponsors of this bill --
Representative Harry Osterman and Senator Carol Ronen -- should be
commended for being such strong advocates for senior citizens who
find themselves in a desperate situation because their citizenship
applications are held up."
Among the refugee groups living in
Illinois who would be affected by the new law are Russian Jews,
Bosnians, Cambodians and Iraqi Kurds.
House Bill 5889, sponsored by state Rep. Harry Osterman,
D-Chicago, and state Sen. Carol Ronen, D-Chicago, provides cash
assistance for elderly and disabled refugees and political asylees
living in Illinois who have not received U.S. citizenship within the
required seven years. These individuals have been unable to receive
citizenship because of a huge backlog at the federal level. Since
they have not attained citizenship, they are no longer eligible for
the federal Supplemental Security Income cash assistance program.
The new law will enable the Department of Human Services to extend
the cash benefits.
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Under the federal immigration laws,
these individuals were granted asylum in the United States for
humanitarian reasons. The federal welfare reform law allows only
political and other refugees to receive benefits for up to seven
years if they have not been granted citizenship.
The new law will ensure that the
Department of Public Aid can extend medical benefits to individuals
who are still awaiting citizenship. An estimated 31 people lost
their benefits in fiscal 2003 because of the legal loophole; another
67 lost benefits in fiscal 2004; and 60 more individuals were at
risk of losing benefits in fiscal 2005.
"I want to
thank Governor Blagojevich for continuing to address the needs of
immigrants in the state of Illinois. House Bill 5889 is very
important legislation that will provide needed assistance to
thousands of Illinois senior citizens as they work to become United
States citizens," said Osterman.
[News release from the