The Social Security Disability Insurance system was established as a social safety net program for workers who lose the physical or mental ability to work at a sustainable gainful activity level. It has become so much more than that. But a new rule from the Social Security Administration will improve the integrity and purpose of the Disability Insurance system.
The inability to communicate in English does not render people unable to perform work, but under the Disability Insurance program’s qualification standards, it does make it easier for them to receive benefits. As a former administrative law judge described it, if a claimant were 45 years or older, limited to sedentary work, and claimed an inability to communicate in English, they were a “slam-dunk for benefits.”
That is true even if those applying for benefits reside in an area, such a Puerto Rico, where English is not the predominant language.
The new rule, set to take effect April 27, will end that by eliminating the inability to communicate in English as a qualifying factor in Disability Insurance benefit determinations. The rule stems in part from evidence gathered during an Obama administration initiative to evaluate the appropriateness of the medical-vocational grid factors—which include age, education (including the ability to communicate in English), and experience—in the determination of Disability Insurance benefits.
Unfortunately, misuse and abuse of the Disability Insurance program by people who can perform work has contributed to its excessive costs, impending insolvency, extreme wait times, and the program’s general failure to adequately meet the needs of individuals who truly cannot work.