SSA updates disability rule to remove inability to communicate in English as a factor in awarding benefits
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Monday, March 30, 2020

SSA updates disability rule to remove inability to communicate in English as a factor in awarding benefits

By Payroll and Entitlements Editorial Staff

Social Security Commissioner Andrew Saul recently announced a new final rule modernizing an agency disability rule that was introduced in 1978 and has remained unchanged since that time. The new regulation, “Removing the Inability to Communicate in English as an Education Category,” updates a disability rule that was more than 40 years old and did not reflect work in the modern economy, according to the press release. The final rule has been in the works for a number of years and updates an antiquated policy that makes the inability to communicate in English a factor in awarding disability benefits.

“It is important that we have an up-to-date disability program,” Commissioner Saul said. “The workforce and work opportunities have changed and outdated regulations need to be revised to reflect today’s world.”

A successful disability system must evolve and support the right decision as early in the process as possible. The SSA’s disability rules must continue to reflect current medicine and the evolution of work, according to the agency.

The SSA is required to consider education to determine if someone’s medical condition prevents work, but research shows the inability to communicate in English is no longer a good measure of educational attainment or the ability to engage in work. This rule is another important step in the agency’s efforts to modernize its disability programs, said the agency’s press release.

In 2015, the SSA’s Inspector General recommended that the agency evaluate the appropriateness of this policy. The agency owes it to the American public to ensure that its disability programs continue to reflect the realities of the modern workplace. The rule also supports the SSA’s longstanding focus of recognizing that individuals with disabilities can remain in the workforce.

The rule will become effective on April 27, 2020. See 85 Fed. Reg. 10586, February 25, 2020 (SSA Press Release, February 24, 2020).

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