Senator Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican, sent a letter to the acting director of the Social Security Administration this week seeking answers about why a person’s inability to speak English has become a determining factor in fast-tracking applicants who want to join the Nation’s ever-expanding disability dole.
“I write to express my concerns about the expanding number of individuals now qualified for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), and to raise a specific issue, the basis for many of these individuals’ disability classification, where the inability to speak English is a determinative factor,” the Ranking Member of the Senate Budget Committee wrote to Commissioner Carolyn Colvin.
The lawmaker was referencing the Social Security Act’s medical-vocational allowance that takes into consideration an applicant’s physical ability, age, education and work experience in determining eligibility for disability benefits.
“The education factor is not limited to actual education as it relates to schooling, but includes a linguistic limitation on the ability to communicate in English,” Sessions wrote. “I’m concerned that the Administration might be construing [the section], which requires that a claimant’s ‘physical, mental, educational, or linguistic limitation of such individual (including lack of facility with the English language)’ be taken into account when making disability determinations.”
The lawmaker said that, as the U.S.’s non-English-speaking population swells, the already insolvent Social Security system can’t afford to provide benefits to people aren’t necessarily disabled, but can’t speak English because it is not their first language, in the same way benefits might be given to individuals with disabilities that make it impossible for them to read, speak or understand English.
“[T]he number of non-English-speaking workers in the United States is growing substantially in the United States and in U.S. territories like Puerto Rico, English might not be the predominant language, but I believe this ‘education’ rule applies in Puerto Rico,” Sessions wrote. “Indeed, in 2010, 63 percent of the applicants in Puerto Rico were awarded disability benefits. In one instance, shortly after 300 workers at a Puerto Rico plant was closed down, 290 of the workers filed for SSDI.”
The lawmaker went on to provide examples of cases in which claimants had obviously abused the system.
“The procedure for determining whether someone can speak English is not exhaustive,” Sessions explained. “There are two questions asked: ‘Can you speak and understand English?’; and, ‘Can you read and understand English?’”
Answering ‘no’ to the simple questions, Sessions pointed out, puts a claimant on the disability fast-track.
In 2000 there were fewer than 6.7 million people in the United States receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits— by 2012 the number ballooned to just under 11 million. In his letter Sessions pointed out that the figures represent a 230 percent increase in the number of SSDI recipients, far outpacing the overall U.S. population growth of 9.7 percent during the same period of time.
To put those numbers in perspective, Sessions referenced an Investor’s Business Daily article which noted that the number of new disability recipients was twice the number of people who started new jobs between 2009 and April 2012.
“This is an unsustainable path,” Sessions wrote. “Indeed, benefit payments are already exceeding tax revenues collected for SSDI and the trust fund is projected to reach exhaustion in as little as two years.”