All Right, Here's What Refugees Get

Information, misinformation. Constituents have it all.

No, despite my radio background, I cannot tell you how to get your favorite cure for deafness to Rush. I can't arrange social security for you--that's a Federal program. And, I cannot stop the flow of immigrants to Western Mass. Even if I wanted to. And, I don't.

But, I can pass along information on just what recent refugees to Westfield may qualify to receive in benefits. The Westfield Evening News published it just a couple years ago in an excellent multi-part series about our new Ukrainian neighbors.

Of course, people who dislike immigrants didn't like the information either. And, continue to disseminate incorrect information. So, here are some facts.

Don't kill the messenger.

First, most of the Ukrainians coming to our shores, and our city, are refugees. Persecuted in their own land, for their Pentecostal religious beliefs, they lost their rights to housing, education, and jobs. Many were professional people. Including musicians and physicians. Many had skilled trades, like carpenters and welders.

There are now some 4,000 plus or minus in Westfield. For the most part they are as determined to succeed as our ancestors were. They want what we want--freedom of speech, religious, a better life. They treasure their homes, their children, and their churches.

 Okay, benefits. Basically, immigrants and refugees have to meet the same financial eligibility requirements for benefits that you and I do. They aren't going to get something that we cannot get if our income is at a particular level or we are at a certain age.

Federal programs. The Federal Welfare Reform Bill in 1996 outlined people who are qualified (they still have to meet eligibility requirements) for Federal benefits. Included--certain battered women, people paroled for over one year, those granted asylum, for example. Oh yes--lawful permanent residents (that's us) and refugees (such as the Ukrainians), as well.

SSI. Social Security Income. A Federal program. Refugees who meet the requirements--say, blind or disabled--can qualify during their first seven years in the country. The same for Federal food stamps.

Two other Federal programs are TAFDC, Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children, and EAEDC, Emergency Aid to the Elderly, Disabled and Children. Refugees can qualify for these programs--during their first five years in this country with a maximum of two years for TAFDC, and after seven years here for EAEDC .

A final Federal program. Masshealth. (Yes, it's for Massachusetts so it says Mass, but it's a Federal program.) Refugees qualify for eligibility only during their first seven years here.

Other programs refugees might be eligible for include WIC, a nutrition program for women and children, which is open to everyone in need, or for MRRP, a federal program known as Massachusetts Refugee Resettlement Program in this state, which provides up to eight months cash and medical assistance from date of entry to eligible refugees. Requirements for MRRP include attending vocationalskills, and ESL (English as a Second Language) training.

In some cases, with which I am familiar, benefits can be lost if applicants don't find and accept jobs within a certain amount of time. There are many, many rules to be followed in each case. And our state and federal officials do their best to be sure that applicants qualify and are eligible.

I repeat, to receive these benefits, refugees must meet all of the income and age eligibility standards that we must meet to qualify. And, don't confuse the words qualified and eligible. If you have to ask, go use the dictionary.

If you want more details, you can contact my office or, better yet, Lutheran Social Services, based in West Springfield. LSS is the sponsoring agency for refugees in Western Massachusetts and have opened a local office in the Mill at Crane Pond, at Maple and Mill Streets in Westfield.

And, don't believe everything you hear. Or read.

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