WASHINGTON – At 85, Moses Sapiro, an immigrant from the former Soviet Union, is about to lose the money he uses for rent and living expenses.
“Who will support me?” asked Sapiro, of Rockville, talking through an interpreter.
Last month, the Social Security Administration told Sapiro, who is hard of hearing and blind in one eye, that he would stop receiving his $484 monthly Supplemental Security Income payments on Aug. 22, due to changes in the federal welfare law.
He is one of about 9,600 legal immigrants in Maryland – and about 900,000 nationwide – whose benefits would be cut off unless they become citizens, said Rich Hensley, an agency spokesman.
The SSI payments, which help low-income aged, blind and disabled individuals, are being stopped for immigrants who are not citizens if they have not served in the military or have not worked for 10 years without receiving federal help.
For Sapiro, the stumbling block to keeping his benefits is his inability to pass the citizenship test because he cannot read, write or speak English.
He has tried and failed twice, in 1994 and in January of this year, to pass the test, his son said. Sapiro said he could have passed had the test been given in his native Russian.
He has no intention of reapplying again, his son said.
On Jan. 8, when he took the test for the second time, Michael was allowed to come with him to repeat the questions, because of Sapiro’s hearing problem.
Michael said his father guessed the answers to the first four questions, but could not understand the other six and failed the test.
Now, Sapiro expects to lose his SSI benefits unless the 1996 federal welfare law is changed.
“I have no energy to go again,” he said.
INS rules say that candidates who are older than 55 can take the test in their native language only if they have been in the United States for at least 15 years. Sapiro said he has been in this country since 1989.
In March alone, the Baltimore office of the INS received 4,000 citizenship applications, said spokesman John Shallman.
Of the 180,000 legal immigrants in Maryland, 92,000 are eligible to apply for citizenship, Shallman said.
To be eligible to apply, legal immigrants must have lived in the United States for four years and nine months. A total of five years is required for citizenship.
Sapiro said he does not know what he will do when his benefits get cut off. His son, Michael, lives in the area but does not make enough money to support him, he said.
He still hopes things will work out. “I love America with all my heart,” Sapiro said. -30-