One year ago, Congress gave a temporary lifeline to thousands of older and disabled refugees. It extended for another 12 months their eligibility for cash assistance under the Supplemental Security Income program, which, for many, was their only source of income. That Congress had to do this was an unfortunate side effect of a 1996 law that placed strict time limits on benefits for refugees who did not become citizens within seven years.

Those limits were intended to persuade refugees to naturalize — well-meaning but mistaken. Thousands who had fled to the United States from places like Iran, Somalia, Cuba and Russia were simply unable to meet the deadline. Some of these men and women were very old and sick, blind or mentally disabled. Some were homebound and too poor to pay for English lessons or administrative fees, unable to understand or complete the paperwork or were caught in processing backlogs.

They were — and remain — an unusually vulnerable population. As refugees, they are all survivors of persecution, torture or warfare. Many have no relatives here. Too old or disabled to work, they rely on government aid for basic food and housing needs.

Since 2008, Congress has passed a series of stopgap bills to keep the aid flowing. The latest extension expires Friday when at least 2,195 refugees will immediately lose their benefits. Another 400 to 500 are expected to be cut off from aid each month as their eligibility runs out. The money is small — about $674 a month for an individual, $1,011 for a couple — and the total needed is a microscopic fraction of the federal budget. Supporters estimate it would cost $178 million for a two-year benefit extension and have identified offsetting spending cuts to pay for it. But generosity and bipartisanship are in eclipse on Capitol Hill, and passage is not certain.

Congress should quickly do what is right and pass the extension. Then, the link between naturalization and life-saving benefits for the old, sick and disabled should be severed. An offer of solace and shelter to victims of war and torture should be real and permanent, not subject to political whims and yearly rethinking.