The Trump administration finalized a rule this week that would limit access to Social Security disability benefits for non-English speakers, part of the president’s ongoing efforts to tighten work requirements and impose restrictions for anti-poverty programs.
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The Social Security Administration announced a rule Monday that would eliminate English speaking as an assessment of an applicants’ education. It would go into effect on April 27. Whether or not an applicant speaks English is one of several factors, like education level, used to check whether that individual has the capacity to find work outside of their medical condition.
“It is important that we have an up-to-date disability program,” Social Security Commission Andrew Saul said in a news release. “The workforce and work opportunities have changed and outdated regulations need to be revised to reflect today’s world.”
Eliminating that factor would make it more difficult for individuals who don’t speak English to obtain aid. The federal government pays disability benefits worth an average of $1,200 per month to people who are unable to work because of the onset of a severe illness or injury. An estimated 8.5 million received disabled-worker benefits, which are financed by part of the Social Security payroll tax.
Most beneficiaries are older and have severe physical or mental impairments. About 75 percent of recipients are over the age of 50, and nearly 35 percent are at least 60 years old, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Mortality among older beneficiaries is three to six times the average for their age group; many die within a few years of qualifying for the aid.
The rule prompted a swift backlash from Democrats, who warned that it would limit aid to an estimated 10,000 people a year with “severe disabilities.”
“With this rule, the Trump Administration will deny people the Social Security disability benefits they’ve earned,” Rep. John Larson (D-Conn) said in a statement. “The inability to communicate in English poses an additional barrier to work. The new rule will end SSA’s consideration of this obstacle. I condemn this action by the Trump Administration, which will deny Social Security and Supplemental Security Income disability benefits to an estimated 10,000 people a year with severe disabilities.”
Larson chairs the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security.
The finalized rule is the latest in the Trump administration’s efforts to limit disability eligibility: Earlier this year, it proposed creating a new category under its existing Continuing Disability Reviews system, which was designed to ensure that people who receive benefits are still disabled and entitled to those benefits. The frequency of a review depends on the severity of the person’s condition and the likelihood that said individual could work with their condition.
Under the proposed fourth category, which would be called “medical improvement likely,” recipients would be required to undergo a review every two years. An estimated 4.4 million people would be included in the category.