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Samantha Putterman
By Samantha Putterman September 30, 2021

Comparison of refugee, Social Security payments is outdated and exaggerated

If Your Time is short

  • The $2,125 figure is outdated and does not represent average monthly payments that refugees receive in the United States.

  • It reflects one-time grant payments (now $2,275) that the State Department issues to resettlement agencies for each refugee, of which a portion is available for the agencies to fund refugees’ critical needs, such as housing and basic necessities, during their first fews months in the U.S. 

  • The average Social Security disability benefit in 2021 is $1,280 per month, while the average retirement benefit is $1,555 per month, the Social Security Administration said.

As refugees from Afghanistan arrive in the U.S. and other countries to start new lives, some social media users have revived an outdated comparison to suggest that the U.S. spends more in benefits for refugees than it does for Social Security recipients.

A Sept. 26 Instagram post featured a 2019 tweet from Charlie Kirk, the founder and president of Turning Point USA, who wrote: 

"The government pays out $2,125/month in refugee benefits to refugees resettled in the United States. Meanwhile, Social Security recipients who have paid into the system their whole lives receive $1,400/month on average. When will we put Americans first?"

The Instagram post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

This comparison relies on outdated numbers.

Andrew Kolvet, a spokesperson for Kirk, told us that Kirk relied on a 2018 PolitiFact article that evaluated similar claims about refugee benefits. But the $2,125 figure did not refer to a monthly payment to assist refugees directly. It referred to a one-time grant to resettlement agencies for each refugee, a portion of which can be used to fund housing and basic necessities during refugees’ first few months in the U.S.

The average Social Security retirement benefit was accurate when the tweet was first posted, but the amount is higher now. 

Refugee status and benefits

Refugee is a legal status for people who come to the United States because they are fleeing wars or persecution in their homeland. In order to stay, refugees must apply for permanent-resident status one year after they arrive. Many don’t speak English and are unfamiliar with U.S. culture and norms when they arrive, so the U.S. offers some temporary assistance to help them adjust. 

Refugees who are granted resettlement through the State Department’s Reception and Placement program are sponsored by a nonprofit resettlement agency and are given essential housing, food and other basic necessities. 

A one-time payment of $2,275 per refugee is currently provided to the resettlement agencies, the State Department told us. 

The agency can use $1,225 of the payment for direct assistance on critical needs, such as housing, food, clothing and furnishings during the refugee’s first 30 to 90 days in the U.S.

The rest of the money helps resettlement agencies provide case management services and cultural orientation, and connect eligible refugees with employment services and English language classes.

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Refugees receive the $1,225 directly only in rare cases in which they have family or friends who can provide housing and other basic needs. This is the total amount available, and it is not a monthly payment, the State Department said.

After those first few months, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement works with states and other non-governmental organizations to provide other financial aid in the form of Refugee Cash Assistance and Refugee Medical Assistance, as well as other social services. 

But this is also time-limited: Cash and medical assistance are available for eligible refugees for up to eight months from their arrival date.

HHS didn’t tell us how much refugees receive per month under U.S. programs. A department spokesperson told PolitiFact in a previous story that the amount and type of federal aid provided to refugees during their eligibility period can vary greatly. Cash and medical assistance, for example, are handled at the state level, and the cost-sharing amounts differ from state to state.

Social Security benefits

Social Security beneficiaries include both retirees and people living with disabilities. Children can also collect Social Security benefits on a parent's earnings record, according to AARP. 

Kirk’s tweet used $1,400 to refer to retirement benefits, which is lower than what recipients get now.

The average retirement benefit is $1,555 per month, said Darren Lutz, a spokesperson for the Social Security Administration. 

The average disability benefit in 2021 is $1,280 per month. Some people receive both benefits.

The Social Security Administration said benefits will rise 1.3% in 2021 for all beneficiaries, or approximately 70 million Americans.

Our ruling 

An Instagram post shared a 2019 tweet that claimed the U.S. government pays out "$2,125/month in refugee benefits to refugees resettled in the United States," while Social Security recipients "who have paid into the system their whole lives receive $1,400/month on average."

These numbers are not accurate. The average Social Security retirement benefit is higher at $1,555 per month.

The bigger error is on refugee spending. The State Department issues a one-time $2,275 payment to resettlement agencies for each refugee, of which $1,225 is available for the agencies to use on basic needs for refugees during their first 30 to 90 days in the U.S. It’s not a monthly payment, as the claim says. Refugees can receive additional assistance from other U.S. programs, but it is temporary. 

With only a shred of truth, we rate this claim Mostly False. 

Our Sources

Instagram post, Sept, 26, 2021

Twitter, Charlie Kirk tweet, July 15, 2019

PolitiFact, Facebook meme misleads about refugee benefits, Social Security checks, Nov. 21, 2018 

PolitiFact, Estimating costs of refugee resettlement in the United States, assistance in home region, Sept. 21, 2017 

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Refugees and Asylum, Nov. 12, 2015 

U.S. Health and Human Services Department, About Cash & Medical Assistance, updated Oct. 6, 2020 

U.S. Department of State, U.S. Refugee Admissions Program:  Reception and Placement, Accessed Sept. 29, 2021 

AARP, Can children get Social Security benefits?, June 14, 2021 

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Policy Basics: Top Ten Facts about Social Security, updated August 13, 2020 

Social Security Administration, Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) Information for 2021, accessed Sept. 29, 2021 

Email interview, Andrew Kolvet spokesperson for Charlie Kirk, Sept. 28, 2021

Email interview, State Department press office, Sept. 29, 2021

Email interview, Darren Lutz, spokesperson for the Social Security Administration, Sept. 30, 2021

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Comparison of refugee, Social Security payments is outdated and exaggerated

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