The Social Security Administration (SSA) has proposed removing the ability to communicate in English as an education category. The proposal would eliminate the provisions of Medical-Vocational Guidelines (the “grids”) Rules 201.17 and 202.09, which provide for findings of disability for claimants aged 45-49 limited to sedentary work and aged 50-54 limited to light work who are unable to communicate in English. According to the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) issued February 1, 2019, “since we adopted these rules, the U.S. workforce has become more linguistically diverse and work opportunities have expanded for individuals who lack English proficiency.” 84 Fed. Reg. 1006 (February 1, 2019), Docket No. SSA-2017-0046.
The Empire Justice Center and a number of other advocacy groups submitted comments opposing these proposed changes. Among the objections raised were challenges to the data upon which SSA relied. SSA also claims the changes are necessary because the current rules treat English proficiency as a relevant vocational factor even when claimants live in countries outside the U.S. or in U.S. territories where English is not the dominant language. By SSA’s own admission, however, the number of people who collect benefits under these rules in Puerto Rico or countries with totalization agreements is relatively small. And eliminating the rule will undoubtedly require vocational testimony in more cases, decreasing rather than increasing efficiency.
The comment period closed on April 2, 2019. Two hundred and thirteen comments were submitted, and must be considered by SSA before its issues final regulations.