English May be Dropped from Disability Evaluation

The Social Security Administration (SSA) has proposed the elimination of the education category “inability to communicate in English” in the evaluation of disability claims.


According to the SSA, the proposal could reduce total insurance benefits by up to 10,500 claims a year. The education category in question was added in 1978, and the SSA claims that it “is no longer a reliable indicator of an individual’s educational attainment,” based on research and audit findings by their Office of the Inspector General.


The SSA asserts that more immigrants with higher education levels are entering the U.S., implying that the link between language and education is diminishing.
There are also claimants in Puerto Rico who have used their lack of English as factors in their claims, which would be superfluous in obstructing their ability to find work because the territory is mainly Spanish speaking.


Splinter’s Eoin Higgins criticized the SSA’s justifications for the proposal, writing that the application of the rule really “only come[s] into play for people with limited to no English, a history in so-called ‘unskilled’ work, and lower education levels.”
He also wrote that Puerto Ricans only make up 1% of the 10,500 claims (based on a 2015 Office of the Inspector General report) that are expected to be rejected per year, and that this small portion did not justify the rule change.


Disability benefits are not awarded solely because a claimant cannot speak English. To receive benefits, claimants must pass a stringent set of standards in which they prove they “have earned income below the ‘substantial gainful employment’ level” and that they have been severely physically impaired. Then, factors such as age, work experience, and education levels are evaluated to further determine if benefits should be awarded or not.

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