WASHINGTON – A bill that would block suspected Nazi war criminals from receiving Social Security benefits is heading to President Barack Obama for his signature.
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By voice vote late Thursday, the Senate gave final congressional approval to a measure that would shut a loophole that allowed suspected Nazis to be paid millions of dollars in benefits, clearing it for the White House. Under the bill, benefits would be terminated for Nazi suspects who have lost their American citizenship, a step called denaturalization. U.S. law currently requires a higher threshold — a final order of deportation — before Social Security benefits can be stopped.
The legislation was introduced after an Associated Press investigation published in October revealed that Social Security benefits have been paid to dozens of former Nazis after they were forced out of the United States.
The House unanimously approved the bill on Tuesday on a 420-0 vote.
The White House and the Social Security Administration signaled support for denying benefits to former Nazis following the AP's report. The Justice Department said it was open to considering proposals that would terminate the Social Security payments.
AP's investigation found that the Justice Department used a legal loophole to persuade Nazi suspects to leave the U.S. in exchange for Social Security benefits. If they agreed to go voluntarily, or simply fled the country before being deported, they could keep their benefits. The Justice Department denied using Social Security payments as a way to expel former Nazis.
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Two Republican senators — Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Orrin Hatch of Utah — have demanded that the Obama administration provide Congress with records explaining how suspected Nazis received the payments and the role the Justice Department played in the program.
Grassley and Hatch cited the AP investigation in letters sent to Attorney General Eric Holder and Carolyn Colvin, the acting commissioner of the Social Security Administration.
In the new Congress that begins next month, Grassley will chair the Senate Judiciary Committee and Hatch will head the Senate Finance Committee.
The Social Security Administration refused the AP's request that it provide the total number of Nazi suspects who received benefits and the dollar amounts. The AP appealed the agency's denial of the information through the Freedom of Information Act.
Former Auschwitz guard Jakob Denzinger, who fled the United States in 1989 and lives in Croatia, collects a Social Security payment of about $1,500 a month, the AP found.
Grassley and Hatch are seeking broad categories of data — such as the total number of Nazis who received Social Security benefits and the dollar amount of those payments — and details about specific cases. For example, they want to know whether a former SS unit commander named Michael Karkoc, whom the AP located last year in Minnesota, would be able to retain his benefits even if removed to another country.
Associated Press writer Richard Lardner contributed to this report.