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Non-English Speakers and Social Security Disability

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If you suffer from a disability, are above the age of 45, and do not speak English, you may qualify for disability benefits based on the lack of employment opportunities available to you. However, a new rule drafted by the Trump administration would specifically target persons who do not speak English, placing their eligibility for disability benefits at risk.

The federal administration is now in the process of finalizing a rule that would bar Social Security examiners from taking into consideration a person’s inability to speak English while evaluating a claim. The Social Security Administration currently does take a number of factors into consideration while evaluating an applicant’s claim. These factors include not just the primary criteria that the agency will consider (the person’s history of having paid into the Social Security system in taxes, as well as the duration of his disability), but also the applicant’s ability to find employment in another field. That determination will consider the person’s age, his education levels and the likelihood of finding a suitable job in another field. The determination of the applicant’s education does take into consideration the person’s ability to speak English. Failure to speak English can be a major deterrent for many types of jobs.

The new rule would, however, bar examiners from considering the applicant’s inability to speak English as a factor while determining the validity of a claim.  According to the administration, the agency currently pays out disability benefits to far too many non-English speakers from Puerto Rico. The administration is also asserting that non-English speakers now have better education levels than their English-speaking counterparts and, therefore, are less likely to be genuinely eligible for benefits.

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