A large number of Puerto Rican residents have reportedly been classified as “disabled” under Social Security guidelines because they don’t speak English very well.
According to the Washington Post, “under Social Security regulations, individuals are considered less employable in the United States if they can’t speak English, regardless of their work experience or level of education.”
The inspector general for the Social Security Administration released a detailed report on the issue this month, stating that a "claimant’s inability to communicate in English can lessen the relevance of work experience and education, potentially making it more likely the claimant will receive disability benefits.”
The benefit is intended to provide financial assistance to individuals who are illiterate or cannot speak English in the United States, Fox News reports. However, the predominate language spoken in Puerto Rico is Spanish and, therefore, the Social Security Administration is misapplying the rule.
“We found the Agency did not make exceptions regarding the English-language grid rules for claimants who reside in Puerto Rico, even though Spanish is the predominant language spoken in the local economy,” the inspector general’s report said.
The Washington Post reports that “auditors identified 218 cases between 2011 and 2013 in which the Social Security Administration granted disability status to Puerto Rico residents because of the existing guideline.”
Even though 95 percent of Puerto Rico residents above age 5 speak Spanish at home, a nurse in Puerto Rico who speaks only Spanish could be considered “unskilled” under current Social Security standards.
According to the report, Social Security determined it was difficult for non-English speaking residents to find a job because they did not speak English, but the inspector general pointed out that they could have found work given their Spanish-speaking skills in a largely Spanish-speaking island, as reported by ABC News.
The Social Security Administration has agreed with the inspector general’s recommendation that the agency reevaluate whether providing federal disability benefits to non-fluent English speakers in Puerto Rico is appropriate.
The Administration will research the issue and look into a possible rule change.