Focusing on what is important for SSDI

Language skills are important for most workers. Lack of fluency in English can hamper communication and limit the number of job that one may be consider for when looking for work. While many in the U.S. speak Spanish, if they lack any functional ability in English, they face a limited job market.

Unless they work in Puerto Rico. There, 85 percent of the population speaks Spanish. However, the Social Security Administration (SSA) only has one standard used throughout the U.S. involving language fluency. The Office of Inspector General (OIG) found 218 instances where an individual was awarded SSD benefits with lack of English fluency as a factor. 

SSA is correcting this, but must proceed through a formal rulemaking process, which will take time. However, we should keep this in prospective. The 218 individual awards occurred over three years from 2011 to 2013. This works out to about 70 cases per year. In 2011, SSA processed 1.7 million applications from disabled workers.

The guidelines that produced this result date to the 1970s and there had been little reason to change them with respect to most of the U.S. Yet, headlines, such as "Puerto Ricans who can't speak English qualify as disabled for Social Security," carries the suggestion that anyone in Puerto Rico who does not speak English could qualify for SSDI.

This and another story, which identified some sex offender in prison who received SSDI benefits, seem to be more designed to malign the SSDI program rather than point out a "real" issue of significance.

With the sex offenders, where the total number identified were 18, the amount of benefits paid totaled "one hundred-thousandth of a percent," according to one writer's calculation. They received benefits because they otherwise qualified and the prison had no obligation to notify SSA that these individuals were sex offenders, who are prohibited by another law from receiving these benefits.

For most applicants, SSDI is a difficult program from which to obtain benefits. While these OIG reports highlight issues that should be taken care of, they are hardly the most important problems faced by the SSDI program.

Too bad the OIG cannot inspect Congress and identify why they are stonewalling correcting the funding problems that Congress created. That would be a report that would headline worthy.

OIG.ssa.gov, "Qualifying for Disability Benefits in Puerto Rico Based on an Inability to Speak English," Office of Inspector General, April 2015

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