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    Senior Member JohnDoe2's Avatar
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    Easy Money: Cubans leave island to retire in Florida with U.S. benefits

    October 9, 2015 - 2:24pm

    Easy Money: Cubans leave island to retire in Florida with U.S. benefits

    By Megan O’Matz, Sally Kestin and John Maines
    Sun Sentinel
    (TNS)

    FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — More Cubans are coming to Florida in their golden years to retire, able to tap U.S. government assistance even though they never lived or worked here.

    The number of Cubans arriving over the age of 60 grew fivefold since 2010, according to state refugee data. At least 185 made the crossing in their 80s or 90s.


    Unlike most other immigrants, Cubans qualify immediately for food stamps and Medicaid. If they are over 65 with little or no income, they also can collect a monthly check of up to $733 in Supplemental Security Income (SSI).


    “They’re getting cheap apartments, food stamps,” said Cuban-born attorney Pedro Fuentes-Cid of Tampa. “They tell their friends in Cuba, and they come over.”


    The United States makes it possible under a humanitarian policy of treating Cubans who arrive as refugees. Elderly immigrants interviewed by the Sun Sentinel said they came primarily to be with family, met the aid qualifications and are grateful for the help.


    Jose Angel Rodriguez immigrated at 81 to join his daughter. He now lives in Miami on food stamps, Medicaid and SSI. “It wasn’t that bad in Cuba,” he said. “But here, I’m better.”


    Elisa Diaz came at 75 to be near her three children in the U.S.

    She lives in Miami in a subsidized apartment, gets food stamps and $700 a month in SSI. The benefits, she said, are much better than pensions in Cuba — about $7 a month. “I have an American flag in my house,” she said. “I’m happy. I want to be an American citizen.”


    Cubans are eligible for government assistance for up to seven years after they arrive in the U.S., and longer if they become citizens. Most elderly immigrants from other nations must first become citizens to receive Supplemental Security Income — a process that takes at least five years.


    The special status that Cubans have enjoyed for decades has helped make Miami-Dade top in the nation among large counties in the percentage of people over 65 collecting SSI, the Sun Sentinel found in an analysis of Census and Social Security data. Miami-Dade had more seniors on SSI than all other Florida counties combined in 2013.


    Cubans know about the government program before they leave the island, said Jose Rolon-Rivera, a former Social Security judge in Miami.


    “For sure, they’re very aware,” he said. “All they need to do is say they just came from Cuba, they’re elderly.”


    Some move in with grown children or relatives already here and receive U.S. aid even though their families have the means to support them, according to annual Census surveys.


    A couple with a toddler in south Miami-Dade County, with a combined annual income of $125,000, brought over the husband’s 67-year-old father, who then collected food stamps and $8,400 a year in SSI.


    A Miami Lakes woman and her husband took in her aging parents, who qualified for $7,200 a year in SSI. The family’s household income: $144,200.


    Congress created Supplemental Security Income in 1972 as a safety net for disabled adults and children, and poor seniors.

    Its use mushroomed over the next two decades, particularly among immigrants.


    SSI had become so popular among elderly Chinese in California that they considered it a right of immigration and viewed it nonchalantly, like getting a library card, a University of California professor testified during a 1996 welfare reform debate. Congress cut new immigrants off of SSI but made an exception for Cubans and grandfathered in some other immigrants who were already here or had long work histories in the U.S.


    By 2013, Cubans were the second-largest group of noncitizens over 65 collecting SSI, behind Mexicans. The monthly payments are considered a vital source of income for many elderly Cubans, and Congress, at the behest of Florida’s influential delegation, has protected their eligibility.


    The aid may not be enough to draw Cubans to the U.S. but is considered an entitlement by many when they arrive.

    It also causes resentment among some other immigrants.

    Lydia Perez worked for 45 years cleaning offices and working in a hotel kitchen but can’t afford to visit her native Dominican Republic. She sees Cuban neighbors in her Hialeah subsidized-housing complex receiving aid and returning to Cuba for visits.


    “They come, they get the money, and they go to Cuba,” said Perez, 81. “I see people who have never worked here in the U.S. and have the same things, the same benefits I have, or more.”


    Juan Fleites, who came when he was 62 and never worked in the U.S., is grateful for the help. Now a U.S. citizen, he lives in a government-subsidized apartment and receives SSI and food stamps, saving enough to visit Cuba every two to three months.


    “This is the greatest country in the world,” he said.




    - See more at: http://courier-tribune.com/news/nati....84M22YYe.dpuf
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    Senior Member JohnDoe2's Avatar
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