New Rule Limits Social Security Disability Eligibility

Since 1978, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has taken language barriers into account when evaluating applications for Social Security disability. The lack of proficiency in English, while not considered disabling in and of itself, has been viewed as having a significant impact on an individual’s ability to find work.

As of April 27, 2020, this will no longer be the case. At the end of February, the SSA announced a new rule has been finalized, and the inability to communicate in English will no longer be a factor in determining eligibility for Social Security disability benefits.

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The Rationale Behind the SSA Rule Change

According to the SSA, research shows that proficiency in English is no longer indicative of an individual’s education or their work prospects. The new rule supports this as well as the administration’s commitment to ensuring the Social Security disability rules remain current.

In addition, the Carter-era rule has been criticized for both treating non-English speakers as not educated enough to hold a job and for giving them an unfair advantage over applicants who are proficient in English. The SSA rule change recognizes that our country’s diversity means that communicating in English is not a prerequisite for joining the workforce.

What the New SSA Rule Means for Disability Claimants

For disability applicants who can communicate in English, the SSA rule change will not affect the evaluation process. For non-English speaking individuals, however, qualifying for benefits will be more difficult under the new regulation.

Proficiency in English has only ever been relevant if the applicant has already supplied evidence that a medical or physical disability limits their ability to do the work they have in the past. At this point, Social Security considers whether the individual could transition to another job – and under the previous rule, a language barrier typically meant getting approved for disability benefits.

Now, non-English speakers cannot expect the SSA to rule in their favor because of their inability to communicate – even if they have no work opportunities in their local area. The Social Security disability program is national in scope, and the law only requires the administration to consider whether enough jobs exist in the national economy that are suited for an applicant’s functional capacity, age, level of education and work experience.

Are More SSA Rule Changes Likely?

Yes. This new rule is not the only change on the drawing board – there has been a proposal to create a new category for disability applicants, and the effect of being placed in this group would be the requirement for more frequent continuing disability reviews.

This rule could be implemented in 2020. If that happens, millions of people who already receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) may find it much more difficult to comply with the review process and keep their monthly disability benefits.

Are you worried about SSA rule changes affecting your eligibility? The experienced advocates at Mountain West Disability, based in northern Utah, can answer your questions and offer advice on how to get the Social Security disability benefits you need. To schedule a free consultation, contact us today.