Miami-Dade County

Feds clarify policy on reparations money inherited from Holocaust survivors

Jewish refugees aboard the MS St. Louis, a German ocean-liner that in 1939 traveled to the United States, Cuba and Canada seeking sanctuary for its passengers but was turned away by all three governments.
Jewish refugees aboard the MS St. Louis, a German ocean-liner that in 1939 traveled to the United States, Cuba and Canada seeking sanctuary for its passengers but was turned away by all three governments. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Reparation money inherited from survivors of the Holocaust should not be used to calculate eligibility for federal programs based on financial need, such as Medicaid, according to an emergency message issued last month by the Social Security Administration.

Advocates for Holocaust survivors and their families called the decision a major victory.

“Children of survivors will no longer be denied access to need-based programs as a result of money they inherited from their parents or grandparents if they can demonstrate that this money was Holocaust-related,” said Michael Lissner, a New York lawyer who with his wife Barbara, also a lawyer, wrote to the federal government last year asking for clarification of the policy.

Both Lissners are the children of survivors.

Countries and private companies that participated in the Holocaust have long made financial reparations to those who survived.

But the money from reparations has sometimes meant that children and beneficiaries of survivors have been barred from receiving Medicaid, federal housing and other programs even though the Victims of Nazi Persecution Act of 1994 made reparations funds exempt from eligibility requirements, the Lissners said.

“It’s not about whether a person should be given an exemption,” Barbara Lissner said. “It’s about whether the funds themselves are exempt.”

The change in federal policy could be an important issue for South Florida.

More than 2,000 Jews who survived the concentration camps or fled Nazi rule during World War II live in Miami-Dade County, according to a telephone survey of Jewish households conducted in 2014 by Ira Sheskin, a professor at the University of Miami, and the Greater Miami Jewish Federation. More than 5,700 Miami-Dade residents identify themselves as the children of survivors, the study concluded.

The Lissners recommend that survivors who have received restitution create a special trust to house those funds. “People should protect this money in an easily identifiable way so that the exemption can be maintained, along with their eligibility for need-based programs,” Barbara Lissner said.

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This story was produced in collaboration with Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

For more information

Survivors and their families in need of assistance can contact The Blue Card, a nonprofit group that aids victims of Nazi persecution, at (212) 239-2251 or visit http://www.bluecardfund.org/.

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