Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has agreed to lift his hold on the extension of aid to 5,600 disabled and elderly refugees, Democrats and Republicans said today.
The program expired Sept. 30, and an earlier deal with Republicans for unanimous consent to extend the Supplemental Security Income program by adding a $30 fee to diversity visas fell apart when Paul put a hold on the bill.
“This took longer than it should have, but we are glad to reach a bipartisan agreement to extend this assistance to disabled refugees,” Senate Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) said in a statement. “Now it is time for the House to act so these individuals don’t have to wait any longer.”
The Senate passed the bill by voice vote in the early evening; the House is in recess this week.
The program helps a limited group of refugees who are elderly or disabled, including the deaf and the blind. The bill only addresses those refugees who have passed a seven-year deadline to become citizens — a requirement from the welfare reform legislation that passed in the 1990s. Passing the citizenship test is sometimes unrealistic for elderly, deaf or blind refugees, advocates say.
Paul had been demanding an investigation into the program after two Iraqi refugees were arrested on terrorism charges in Bowling Green, Ky., this year.
To accommodate Paul, Schumer agreed to hold a hearing on the program in the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security, which he chairs. Schumer also agreed to request an inspector general investigation of how the two suspects received refugee status.
Democrats had noted that the suspects did not receive anything from the program addressed by the bill, but instead received cash benefits from a separate, unrelated program for refugees.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.