According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), if you live in Puerto Rico and don’t speak English, you qualify for disability benefits.
A new audit by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) found that, despite the fact Puerto Rico is a predominantly Spanish-speaking territory, Spanish speakers are eligible for disability because of their “inability to communicate in English.”
This loophole comes as the result of the SSA applying their grids of medical-vocational guidelines in a “one-size-fits-all” fashion. SSA workers use the guidelines to determine whether a person is limited in his or her ability to find a job because of their inability to communicate in English. Despite the fact that both English and Spanish are official languages of Puerto Rico and 95 percent of the population speaks Spanish at home, residents of the territory are cashing in by abusing guidelines intended to assist those who are illiterate or cannot speak English in the U.S.
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In its audit, the OIG identified 218 cases between 2011 and 2013 where Puerto Ricans were awarded disability due to their inability to communicate in English. The report also stated that 4 percent of the disability hearings in Puerto Rico involved looking at an individual’s ability to speak, read, write, and understand English.
In 1987, a U.S. District Court ruling denied a claimant benefits on the grounds that “it is the ability to communicate in Spanish, not English, that is vocationally important in Puerto Rico.” However, the court “explicitly declined to apply this rationale outside of this one case,” according to the OIG.
Based on the OIG’s recommendation, the SSA has agreed to figure out how many people have been “awarded disability based on their inability to communicate in English” and “evaluate the appropriateness” of applying the English-speaking rules to Puerto Rico. They are currently gathering information for a proposed regulation that could lead to changes in the English-speaking rule.
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