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Elderly Immigrants Affected By Worsening Economy, Often Ineligible For Many Federal Benefits

August 05, 2017

The Los Angeles Times on Thursday examined how "with the economy collapsing," the relatives of many elderly immigrants "who sponsored them for green cards and agreed to be financially responsible for them are increasingly having trouble doing so." Federal law limits access to benefits -- including Supplemental Security Income, health coverage or cash assistance -- to newly arrived documented elderly immigrants. Although accessing federal benefits becomes "much easier" once they become citizens, many elderly immigrants are "reluctant to ask for it because of the perceived shame or stigma," according to the Times. Of the more than one million immigrants in fiscal year 2007, about 58,500 were ages 65 and older, according to the Office of Immigrant Statistics.

The eligibility requirements for the elderly immigrants are "really draconian," according to Gerald McIntire, directing attorney at the National Senior Law Center. "Even people who have demonstrated need are often not able to qualify for subsistence benefits," he added. Rick Oltman of Californians for Population Stabilization said that taxpayers should not have to support elderly immigrants, even if they are in the country legally. "Nobody wants to leave senior citizens out in the cold," he said, adding, "But the government needs to do everything it can to enforce these agreements. The last resort for supporting these immigrants should be the taxpayer."

In the meantime, the restrictions often result in more financial pressure on sponsoring family members, the Times reports. According to Steven Wallace, professor at the University of California-Los Angeles School of Public Health, economic resources are "shared at the household level" in many immigrant communities. He added, "If one or more of the parents loses a job, that squeezes everybody in the family."

Furthermore, elderly immigrants have a more difficult time assimilating to U.S. culture than younger immigrants, and they also lack a social network, according to the Times. Many elderly immigrants also "struggle with the loss of their independence when they arrive in the U.S." and have to rely on family members to drive them to doctor appointments and other necessary places, the Times reports.

"They are very isolated," according to Farhana Shahid of the South Asian Network, who provides therapy for elderly immigrants and helps them apply for federal benefits. She said, "They think they are going to have a great life," adding, "When they come over here, there is nothing for the older people" (Gorman, Los Angeles Times, 2/12).

Reprinted with kind permission from kaisernetwork. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, or sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork/dailyreports/healthpolicy. The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

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