Victory for Elderly and Disabled Immigrants
THURSDAY, JANUARY 17, 2008
Legal Aid Attorney Jennifer Baum shares good news with her client, an elderly, disabled immigrant who will no longer have to choose between food, medicine and shelter because leal Aid and the law firm of Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP prevailed in a major case on behalf of disabled immigrants in New York State who were denied about half of the public assistance benefits to which they were entitled.

Impoverished elderly and disabled immigrants won a resounding victory when the Appellate Division, First Department ruled that New York State must meet their basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter, even if the federal government will not. The decision will benefit thousands of impoverished elderly, blind and disabled immigrants who are unable to work because of their disabilities. For more information see Khrapunskiy v. Doar.

The Khrapunskiy case was brought by immigrants who are living in the United States lawfully after Congress imposed harsh restrictions on disabled refugees and asylees in 1996. These legal immigrants are now eligible for federal SSI benefits for only seven years. Because long delays and onerous requirements prevent many immigrants from naturalizing before they lose their SSI benefits, thousands of disabled legal immigrants have lost their federal SSI benefits because of the 1996 restrictions. Even though they are just as elderly or infirm as other disabled New Yorkers, these disabled immigrants began receiving hundreds of dollars per month less than all other disabled New York State residents. Suddenly they found themselves unable to pay their rent or their utilities, or afford basic necessities such as bathroom tissue and soap.

The Appellate Division, First Department held that New York State may not deny benefits to elderly or disabled immigrants whom the State "continues to classify as the needy aged, blind and disabled" "merely because the federal government, in 1996, chose to deny SSI benefits to [that] particular subgroup." This denial, held the Court, "violates the letter and spirit of article XVII" of the State Constitution "by imposing on plaintiffs an overly burdensome eligibility condition having nothing to do with need." The decision will affect over 7,000 individuals who lost their federal SSI benefits because of the restrictions adopted in 1996. It will also benefit thousands of other legal immigrants who are elderly or disabled, but who were not previously eligible for SSI because of their immigration status. Legal Aid Society attorneys in the case include Jennifer Baum and Scott Rosenberg in the Civil Law Reform Unit. Substantial pro bono assistance was provided by Richard W. Slack and Idit Froim of Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP. Other co-counsel include the New York Legal Assistance Group and the Empire Justice Center.