WASHINGTON – Legislation to stop suspected Nazi war criminals from receiving U.S. Social Security benefits will be introduced soon, the latest response to an Associated Press investigation that revealed millions of dollars have been paid to former Nazis who were forced out of the United States.
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Reps. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, will release details of the bill Friday. The legislation will be offered in mid-November, when Congress returns to session following the midterm elections.
Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Bob Casey, D-Pa., said they will propose a similar bill in the Senate.
The Social Security Administration on Thursday issued its most emphatic statement on the subject, declaring "We don't believe these individuals should be getting these benefits." The agency, the statement added, is "available and ready to provide technical assistance to proposals" to end the payments.
The AP's investigation, published Sunday, has triggered outrage on Capitol Hill, in the editorial pages of newspapers across the country, and from the White House.
Maloney said her congressional office has received dozens of calls in the last few days. "People are approaching me at events and indicating that they want to see the bill passed - and quickly," Maloney said. She has also demanded that the inspectors general at the Justice Department and Social Security Administration conduct an "immediate investigation" into the benefits payments.
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"It is simply perverse that these criminals have been able to live comfortably abroad thanks to the American taxpayer," Schumer said.
Casey credited the AP with revealing "a gross injustice" and said he's hopeful that "Democrats and Republicans will come together to fix this problem in the very near future."
The Justice Department used a legal loophole to persuade Nazi suspects to leave the U.S. in exchange for Social Security benefits, the AP found. If they agreed to go, or simply fled before being deported, they could keep their Social Security benefits.
The Justice Department denied using Social Security payments as a tool for expelling Nazi suspects. The department is "open to considering proposals addressing this issue," according to spokesman Peter Carr.
The Republican chairman of the Ways and Means subcommittee on Social Security and the panel's top Democrat announced plans Thursday for a separate bill that would stop the payments and also require the Social Security Administration to produce a report on the number of Nazis whose benefits have been terminated.
"By leaving the country voluntarily, instead of being deported, these murderers were able to keep their benefits," said the subcommittee chairman, Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas. "Congress must stop these benefit payments now."
The legislation to be unveiled by Maloney and Chaffetz would deny federal public benefits such as Social Security to individuals who participated in the Nazis' persecution of Jews and other civilians during World War II.
The bill would end benefits relatively quickly — within 60 days of an immigration judge's order declaring a Nazi persecutor "to be ineligible for any public benefit and prohibiting any person from providing such a benefit." Suspects who lose their benefits could seek a review of the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals.
Schumer has for years sought to close the loophole. In the 1980s, when he was in the House, he said the loophole was "often used as a basis to plea bargain." Yet attempts to shut off the benefits failed, due in part to opposition from the Justice Department. The law enforcement agency argued that closing the loophole would undermine its ability to remove Nazi suspects as quickly as possible to countries that would prosecute them.
Casey's interest stems from his broader concern over how Social Security benefits are dispersed. He has pushed for a more rigorous system of background checks to prevent criminals from becoming managers of a person's Social Security benefits.
The Social Security Administration has refused the AP's request for the total number of Nazi suspects who received benefits and the dollar amounts.
Last week, the AP last week appealed the agency's denial of the information through the Freedom of Information Act. The appeal also cited several concerns about the Social Security Administration's handling of the FOIA request, including the agency's alteration of the request "in a manner serving both to undercut AP's inquiry while simultaneously sparing the SSA from having to disclose potentially embarrassing information," the Oct. 16 appeal said.
Associated Press writer David Rising in Berlin and investigative researcher Randy Herschaft in New York contributed to this report.