Mail confusion delayed social security cards for Afghan refugees

A tour of the Wisconsin Army Post reveals grateful, bored Afghans
Barbara Davidson

Members of the U.S. military and Afghan refugees play football at the Fort McCoy US Army base on Thursday, September 30, 2021 in Fort McCoy, Wis. The fort is one of eight military installations across the country that temporarily house tens of thousands of Afghans who were forced to flee their homeland in August after the United States withdrew its forces from Afghanistan and the Taliban took control.

MADISON, Wis. – Logistical postal problems have helped delay social security cards for Afghan refugees across the country, where organizations are unable to get cards sent to people because they have similar names as other refugees or have left military bases, says a spokesman for USA Social Security Administration.

None of the 36 Afghan refugees currently resettled in Madison since the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan in August have received their cards yet, according to Madison’s refugee resettlement agency, Jewish Social Services.

“It’s a federal issue, and until the Social Security Administration finds out, it will not help our customers,” said JSS CEO Dawn Berney.

While refugees have been able to obtain temporary 30-day food stamps in Madison, they are left without the option of accessing temporary income or their regular food stamps without social security cards. Refugees with a social security number can access temporary income benefits, such as Wisconsin Works (W-2) or cash assistance programs for refugees, which typically last eight to nine months.

“They need their Social Security card to submit the paperwork,” Berney explained. “So they have no income at all and that’s a problem.”

Mail confusion leads to card delays

Weeks ago, News 3 Investigates asked the US Social Security Administration for more information on why Afghan refugees experienced delays in obtaining their social security cards.

This week, a spokesman for SSA Chicago’s regional office told News 3 Investigates that the agency had “recently learned” about logistical issues affecting card deliveries to Afghan refugees involving the Department of Homeland Security and a third-party nonprofit, International Organization of migration.

“For example, we have heard that some people have very similar or common names and others have moved from military bases,” SSA Regional Director of Communications Doug Nguyen said in an email.

In addition, some paperwork has been sent to military bases after Afghan refugees already left the base, Berney told News 3 Investigates.

“I know one of the problems is that some paperwork is being sent to Army bases where families are no longer, so whether it’s Fort McCoy or Fort Bliss or Fort Lee, they’re just not there to receive that paperwork. arriving … it does not help, “said Berney.

SSA had worked with DHS and IOM to send maps to a centralized address, from where IOM had trouble getting the maps to their final destination.

RELATED: Concerns over Medical Care, Eager to Leave: An Afghan Journalist’s Situation at Fort McCoy

“Although we successfully issued SSN cards to these individuals through the EBE, the IOM has not been able to obtain the cards for all of them,” Nguyen said.

The Feds hope that the custom identifier will solve the problem

SSA is now solving the problems by reissuing SSN cards for refugees, this time with an automated unique identifier on the address bar of the postal envelope attached to the refugee’s application.

The idea is that the identifier will help the IOM get the cards to the real refugee by using their current address and sending cards back to the SSA, which cannot be delivered.

“I think it will help alleviate that a lot,” Berney said when she heard about the solution.

The confusions affected refugees who currently have a special immigrant visa and applied for a Social Security card through the Enumeration Beyond Entry process, Nguyen said. SIV is a specialized federal visa program for Afghan and Iraqi individuals who worked for the U.S. Federal Government, providing support and services to troops and other federal government workers.

RELATED: An Affordable Housing Crisis: Afghan Refugees in Madison

Nguyen did not say how many refugees had been affected, or provided specific data on how many cards had been delayed due to the confusion of mails. He also did not say specifically whether the cards had been sent to the wrong people or lost due to the confusions.

Other problems have contributed to delays, Berney previously explained to News 3 Now, including pandemic changes in the application process. It used to be that refugees could get an appointment and receive a card within 24 hours, Berney said. Now, virtual methods have stretched the process further.

Meanwhile, refugees with temporary food stamp cards may be dependent on gift cards from grocery stores if the issue is not resolved soon.

“If their card is not processed by the next month, then they will lose it and have to go through the process again,” Berney said.

RELATED: At Fort McCoy, Team Rubicon set to retire; officials say all Afghan refugees now have ‘winter coats’


Are you looking for ways to help refugees in Madison?

  • Donate cash, basic groceries or Amazon gift cards to Jewish social services or Open Doors for Refugees
  • JSS is also currently seeking volunteers to help refugees move into apartments, especially volunteers who can help with heavier items such as furniture

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