Update on immigration issues for Social Security practitioners

Last weekend I gave a presentation along with my colleague, David Wright, at a conference of Social Security practitioners.   The conference was geared towards experienced practitioners who practice in the 9th Circuit (California, Alaska, Hawaii, Arizona, Washington and Oregon.)  Both David and I practice immigration law and Social Security disability law so we spoke about immigration issues that we see in Social Security disability cases.

We discussed how to analyze a case for the immigration issues and what to look for before taking on representation of immigrants.  We discussed some new developments in the law such as the extension of eligibility of SSI to nine years instead of seven for refugees and other humanitarian immigrants.   We reviewed some of the common immigration documents and how to obtain more information about a potential client’s immigration status by doing a FOIA.

A copy of our written article appears on my California immigration lawyer blog here.  I still have 25 booklets referred to in footnote 3  –  “Guide to Selected U.S. Travel and Identity Documents, ”  published by U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement.   I would be happy to send them for free to the first 25 people who contact me, as long as the mailing address is in the United States.

California’s 2009 budget reduces SSI cost of living adjustment

On February 20,  Governor Schwarzenegger signed into law a much-debated budget plan.  You may find the budget documents on the website of the California Department of Finance.  The California Budget Project has prepared an excellent summary of the budget plan.

For SSI recipients, the budget reduces the cost of  living adjustment (“COLA”) that had been effective since January 1, 2009.  In January 2009, a recipient’s maximum monthly SSI payment had increased due to a federal COLA to $907 for individuals and $1,579 for couples.  Effective May 1, 2009, the State Supplementary Payment (“SSP”)  portion of the combined grant will be reduced by the same amount of the increase.  Thus, the maximum combined SSI/SSP portions for individuals and couples will return to their December 2008 levels of $870 and $1,524, respectively.

The budget also provides that the state COLA will also be suspended in June 2010.  Thus, the maximum amount an individual or a couple may receive  will remain at these December 2008 levels through the end of the 2009-2010 fiscal year.

Can someone who has TPS receive SSDI for a disability?

I recently received a question as to whether a person can collect SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) if he or she has the immigration status of  Temporary Protected Status (“TPS”) and becomes disabled.  At first I did not think so because TPS is a temporary status.   Generally speaking, non-immigrants are not able to collect much in the way of public benefits.  However, as I researched further, I found out to my surprise that people who have valid TPS  may collect SSDI.

TPS  is granted by the United States Attorney General  to nationals of certain countries when they cannot return to their country due to an ongoing armed conflict, environmental disaster, or other extraordinary and temporary conditions.   The following countries are currently designated for TPS:  El Salvador, Nicaragua, Burundi, Honduras, Somalia and Sudan.

Persons on TPS are granted work authorization.  As long as they have worked lawfully  (with a  Social Security number valid for work purposes), worked in jobs in which Social Security taxes (FICA) were deducted, and have sufficient earnings, they  may collect SSDI.  The key is whether there are sufficient earnings.  My colleague, Jonathan Ginsberg,  publisher of the Social Security Disability blog explains this concept well on his post, “Have You Worked Enough to Qualify for Disability.”  Mr. Ginsberg writes:

“In order to be “fully insured” for disability, you need to have at least 20 credits in your account within the last ten years (fewer credits may be required for workers in their teens or twenties). It is possible to earn a maximum of 4 credits per year. Over ten years, therefore, you can earn a maximum of 40 credits (4 x 10). If you have earned 20 credits during the ten years prior to the onset of your disability (when you stopped working), you are insured for disability purposes.”

As each TPS program varies in length,  it may possible for some nationals of certain countries to have sufficient earnings to collect at this time.  But as Mr. Ginsberg notes, it is not sufficient to have worked for a number of years; a person has to work and earn a certain amount in order to be credited for that work.   Mr. Ginsberg has published the amounts needed in his post, “Have you Worked Enough to Qualify for Disability.”

It may be complicated to figure out eligibility, but it is well worth the time.   I would be curious to know how many people with TPS apply for SSDI.  My guess is that most people who are eligible do not know about it.