WASHINGTON - Suspected Nazi war criminals would be blocked from receiving Social Security benefits under a bill unanimously approved Tuesday by the House.
The measure would shut a loophole that allowed suspected Nazis to be paid millions of dollars in benefits. Under the bill, benefits would be terminated for Nazi suspects who have lost their American citizenship, a step called denaturalization. U.S. law currently mandates 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.
AP's investigation found that the Justice Department used a legal loophole to persuade Nazi suspects to leave the United States 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.
Rep. Leonard Lance (R., N.J.) said the House action would "correct an injustice of two generations and right a terrible wrong in the name of the lives that were lost as a result of the Holocaust."
The unanimous vote showed that "our resolve for justice is unyielding and our commitment to pursue what is right continues even 70 years after World War II," said Lance, a cosponsor of the bill and cochair of the Republican Israel Caucus.
"We cannot allow Social Security benefits to continue flowing to those guilty of the worst atrocities in modern history," added Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D., N.Y.). Maloney previously called on the administration to investigate the payments, which shecalled a misuse of tax dollars.
The House vote came as two Republican senators demanded that the administration provide Congress with records explaining how suspected Nazis received the payments and the role the Justice Department played in the program.
Sens. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa and Orrin G. Hatch of Utah cited the AP investigation in letters sent to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and Carolyn Colvin, acting commissioner of the Social Security Administration. Grassley and Hatch back legislation introduced in the Senate to strip former Nazis of Social Security benefits. A vote on the Senate bill is expected in the coming weeks.