Budget Cuts Target Elderly and Disabled Refugees

Affiliate: ACLU of Maine
February 6, 2008 12:00 am

ACLU Affiliate
ACLU of Maine
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PORTLAND – Many elderly and disabled refugees who have sought asylum in Maine could lose their only source of income under proposed budget cuts that will be presented Thursday to a joint meeting of the Appropriations and Health and Human Services Committees. The budget cuts proposed by Governor John Baldacci would change current law, which has allowed the state to help disabled refugees who are here legally but who are not eligible for federal SSI benefits.

The proposed budget cut would remove the sole means of financial support from many Maine families, where the head of household presently receives that benefit.

Several refugees who could be affected by this budget cut are expected to attend the hearing tomorrow. In an interview this week, Abdirahman Hassan of Lewiston, speaking through a translator, explained how he would be affected by Baldacci’s plan.

“I am going to suffer. I won’t be able to live if the benefit is eliminated,” said Mr. Hassan, a 59-year-old diabetic who left Somalia when the war began. “I don’t think I could make it; I depend on this [benefit] so much.”

Mr. Hassan led a comfortable life with his family in Somalia until war erupted 17 years ago. Much of his family were separated, deployed, or fled to neighboring countries. He remained in his homeland until he was diagnosed with diabetes and unable to obtain even basic medication for his condition. His kidneys failing, he left Somalia in search of security that a war torn country could not provide him.

“When I came here with the assistance of the [United States] government, oh how my life has changed. Now I receive medication, and got a kidney transplant,” says Mr. Hassan.

Eliminating Mr. Hassan’s benefits would leave him in circumstances similar to those he fled in Somalia. He will not have funds for a home, or medication for his condition. Over 30 other refugees in Maine receive this benefit, totaling just over an estimated $180,000 in the state budget.

These refugees have relied on this state aid program since the federal welfare reforms act under President Bill Clinton slashed SSI benefits for non-citizens who are disabled. States have been given the option of filling the gap, and providing a state benefit to replace the lost federal funds. Baldacci’s proposed budget cut would remove that option.

Mr. Hassan, who plans to travel to Augusta Thursday with five other affected immigrants to protest the budget cuts, stressed that the loss of income for so many people with severe medical problems would create an undue burden on those who can least afford it:

“If the most vulnerable – who will not survive because of medical problems, who will not work because of disability- if the government decides to cut their only source of income… that is not justice,” said Mr. Hassan.

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