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SSA considers policy change over lack of English fluency

If you read our blog regularly, you know that the Social Security Administration (SSA) considers a long list of factors when determining whether someone is eligible for disability insurance. Among those factors is education and ability to work. Recent information about how these factors are impacting who is approved for benefits is causing the SSA to reconsider how it evaluates a person's need.

It recently came to light that many people living in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico were approved for disability benefits because they lacked English fluency. This may sound strange to some people here in New Jersey, since the majority of people in Puerto Rico speak Spanish. So, how is this possible?

Under current SSA rules, an individual is considered less likely to be employed if he or she is not fluent in English, even if he or she has strong work skills and a relatively high level of education. In Puerto Rico, 95 percent of people grow up speaking Spanish and most describe their English proficiency as mediocre.

Of course, the issue here is that not being able to speak English may be a problem if you are living in the continental U.S., but it likely does not impact your ability to find work if you live in Puerto Rico. Although the number of people approved for benefits because of this rule is small -- less than 220 between 2011 and 2013 -- the SSA says it will consider changing the guidelines to consider local conditions when determining whether a person can be considered unskilled in the eyes of the government.

Although the SSA has some flaws, it still provides much needed benefits to people throughout the U.S. and U.S. territories who cannot work due to a disability. It will be interesting to see if and how the SSA decides to change the rules.

Source: The Washington Post, "Puerto Ricans who can't speak English qualify as disabled for Social Security," Josh Hicks, April 10, 2015

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