SSA proposes removing `inability to communicate in English’ as an education category
Tuesday, March 12, 2019

SSA proposes removing `inability to communicate in English’ as an education category

By Payroll and Entitlements Editorial Staff

The SSA is proposing to eliminate the education category “inability to communicate in English” when it evaluates disability claims for adults under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. Changes in the national workforce since the agency added this category to its rules in 1978 demonstrate that this education category is no longer a reliable indicator of an individual's educational attainment or the vocational impact of an individual's education. The proposed revisions reflect research and data related to English language proficiency, work, and education; expansion of the international reach of the SSA’s disability programs; and audit findings by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG). The proposed revisions also would help the SSA better assess the vocational impact of education in the disability determination process. Comments are due by April 2, 2019.

Under the proposed regulations, the SSA would not consider an individual's educational attainment to be at a lower education category than his or her highest numeric grade level solely because the education occurred in a language other than English; the individual participated in an English language learner program, such as an English as a second language class; or the individual is deemed to have LEP under current federal standards. (Note that individuals who do not speak English as their primary language and who have a limited ability to read, speak, write, or understand English can be “limited English proficient,” or LEP.) The proposed rules retain the SSA’s longstanding and well-supported recognition that more formal education, work experience, and training improve an individual's ability to adjust to other work.

Instead, the SSA would apply its current rules for determining an individual's education category for all claimants regardless of which language they use to communicate. The agency will use an individual's numerical grade level to determine the education category of the individual, and it may adjust an individual's education category if there is evidence that his or her attained educational abilities are higher or lower than the highest numerical grade level completed in school.

The SSA proposes to make these and other minor conforming revisions in 20 CFR §§404.1564 and 416.964. It also proposes to make other revisions to these sections to remove references to the English language.

The agency also proposes to revise the grid rules. First, it proposes to revise all grid rules referencing an inability to communicate in English. Specifically, the SSA would revise “Illiterate or unable to communicate in English” to “Illiterate'' (§§201.17, 201.23, 202.09, 202.16) and “Limited or less--at least literate and able to communicate in English” to “Limited or Marginal, but not Illiterate” (§§201.18, 201.24, 202.10, 202.17). For clarity and ease of use, the SSA proposes to revise “Marginal or none” to “Marginal or Illiterate” (§203.01). Second, the SSA proposes to make other conforming changes throughout the grid rules consistent with the revisions.

If the agency adopts the proposed rules as final rules, it would begin to apply them to new applications, pending claims, and continuing disability reviews (CDRs), as appropriate, as of the effective date of the final rules.

For further information, contact Dan O'Brien, Office of Disability Policy, Social Security Administration, 6401 Security Boulevard, Baltimore, Maryland 21235-6401, (410) 597-1632. See 84 Fed. Reg. 1006, February 1, 2019.

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