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Many Non-English Speakers Would Lose Disability Benefits Under SSA Proposal

Posted by Laura E. Stubberud | Feb 24, 2019 | 0 Comments

The Social Security Administration (SSA) is proposing  to make it more difficult for people who don't speak English to qualify for disability benefits. 

Under proposed regulations, released February 01, 2019, the SSA would no longer consider a person's “inability to communicate in English” when reviewing applications, either for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.

The SSA estimates that the move will cut the disability rolls by more than 10,000 non-English speaking claimants. 

“This proposal is little more than an attempt to deny non-English speakers access to benefits,” a government source who works on matters of Social Security, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Splinter News in an email.  

To qualify for SSDI or SSI, a person must have a disability, expected to last more than one year, preventing them from working, described in SSA parlance as an “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity.” 

When determining an applicant's potential employment prospects, the SSA considers the person's age, work experience and education. The education category divides applicants into four subcategories: high school education and above, marginal education, limited education, and “illiterate or unable to communicate in English.” 

Existing regulations further specify that the SSA only considers a person's ability to communicate in English where the applicant is age 45 or older, on the assumption that it is more difficult for older individuals to become fluent in English and thus become employable. 

As the SSA now sees it, people who are “illiterate” or are “unable to communicate in English,” should never be grouped together, noting throughout the proposed regulations that many people lacking fluency in English may nonetheless have been highly educated in their home countries. As further support for its contention, the SSA argues that as the workforce continues to diversify, it is now easier for older people to learn English and thus improve their employment prospects.

“Changes in the national workforce since we added this category to our rules in 1978 demonstrate that this education category is no longer a reliable indicator of an individual's educational attainment or the vocational impact of an individual's education,” the regulations state. 

Nancy Altman, president of the advocacy group Social Security Works, argues that proposal is unnecessary, as the SSDI and SSI application processes are already complex and finding employment with a disability is already difficult enough. 

“It's not only that you cannot work in your job, it's that you cannot work in any job economy,” Altman told Splinter News. “If you can do the job anywhere, you can't get disability.” 

The SSA is accepting public comments on the proposal through April 02, 2019. 

Click here to read the full proposed regulation.

About the Author

Laura E. Stubberud

Laura Stubberud has over two decades of experience in the practice of estate and family law in Nevada. After graduation from UCLA, she studied law at Southwestern University School of Law , graduating in 1992. With over 25 years of practice in Clark County, Nevada, Ms. Stubberud has substantial e...


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