Fact check: Comparison of refugee payments, Social Security is old hoax

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Chelsey Cox, USA TODAY
·5 min read
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The claim: 'Illegal' refugees receive thousands more in payment from the government than Social Security recipients

A recently viral Facebook meme targets an apparent immigration policy benefitting refugees over natural born citizens.

"Insanity is when illegal refugees get $3,874 a month in federal assistance while Social Security checks average $1,200 a month," states the Feb. 1 post, which has been shared over 1,100 times. The statement is credited to "Nick Fortunato." USA TODAY was unable to confirm Fortunato'sidentity.

The meme is similar to one posted to Facebook on Oct. 29, 2018, without credit to Fortunato or another source. That post has been shared more than 87,000 times.

Both memes were posted without a caption. USA TODAY reached out to the posters for comment.

The claim appears to be an old one, and possibly got a boost from a tweet from former President Donald Trump.

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Trump tweets misleading claim

The Facebook posts comparing assistance to average benefits for retired American citizens are versions of a similar claim dating back to 2007, according to FactCheck.org.

Trump promoted the hoax in a Nov. 28, 2018, tweet: “Illegals can get up to $3,874 a month under Federal Assistance program. Our social security checks are on average $1200 a month. RT (retweet) if you agree: If you weren’t born in the United States, you should receive $0 assistance,” he tweeted, according to the Associated Press and the Trump Twitter Archive. It was eventually deleted.

Resettling refugees

Refugee status in the United States is one of many inaccuracies stated in the viral Facebook post.

Federal law dictates that those fleeing persecution on the grounds of race, religion, nationality, membership of a social group and/or a political opinion may be granted legal residence as an asylum-seeking refugee, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Refugees selected for resettlement are given essential housing, food and basic necessities. They are also eligible for a one-time U.S. government-funded assistance payment within the first three months of arrival. The payments — distributed per refugee — are meant to supplement additional assistance from sponsoring resettlement agencies, according to the State Department.

Refugees are not "illegal," as the post claims.

Social Security payments

The quoted $1,200 average monthly Social Security benefit is also inaccurate. The average was $1,259.57 in 2007 and broke $1,300 per month three years later, according to The Motley Fool.

Benefits averaged $1,409.91 per month in 2018, when one viral post was made, The Motley Fool reported. The payment rose to $1,514 per month in June 2020, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and will increase by 1.3% for approximately 70 million Americans in 2021, according to the Social Security Administration.

Refugee assistance is part of a Canadian program

The $3,874 in assistance for refugees that the posts cite dates back to Sept. 1, 2017, when Facebook user Mike Marcoux posted an image of an alleged document from the Canadian Resettlement Assistance Program, according to Snopes. The program was launched by the Canadian Council for Refugees, a nonprofit organization that resettles refugees in the country.

The picture shows an itemized breakdown of resettlement benefits totaling $3,784 for a family of five. The document was signed by a recipient on Jan. 28, 2016.

“This is what 1 illegal refugee gets with the federal assistance program $3874 per month,” Marcoux posted, according to Snopes. The post was later deleted. A copy of the post, archived here, appeared on Facebook two years later.

Rémi Larivière, a media representative for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada confirmed the authenticity of the document.

"It appears that this document was taken from orientation information provided to a refugee family of 5 under the Resettlement Assistance Program (RAP). RAP rates are posted on the Refugee Sponsorship Training Program’s (RSTP) website," Larivière shared in an email.

The claims misinterpret the assistance program's benefits, according to Larivière. Resettled refugees can qualify for a one-time housing assistance payment and monthly income support during their first year of residency.

"The one-time start-up amount, provided to refugees directly after arrival, assists with the costs of setting up a household in Canada (e.g. furniture, pantry staples, linens, winter clothing)," Larivière told USA TODAY via email.

The rate of assistance depends on the province of residence and varies based on family size, according to RSTPs website.

Our rating: False

We rate this claim FALSE, based on our research. A Facebook claim comparing Canadian refugee resettlement program benefits to average U.S. Social Security benefits is an old claim spread by, among others, former President Donald Trump in a since-deleted tweet. The alleged monthly assistance benefit references a Canadian agency's policy and is therefore, not comparable to U.S. Social Security benefits. The claim also suggests refugees are "illegal," which is false; they fall under a special legal status assigned by the federal government. Lastly, the claim incorrectly quoted average monthly retirement benefits at $1,200. The average benefit was $1,514 in 2020.

Our fact-check sources:

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Comparison of refugee payment, Social Security is old hoax