Feds: Spanish-Only Speakers In Puerto Rico Are Disabled


Here’s another one for the “only in America” files.  An Office of Inspector General (OIG) audit inside the Social Security Administration (SSA) indicates that a few hundred benefits recipients in Puerto Rico were classified as disabled because they only speak Spanish.

That’s right, in the American territory where English is not the primary language – and it is not required for cultural immersion or getting a job – not speaking English contributed to the SSA awarding disability benefits.

“We found the Agency did not make exceptions regarding the English-language grid rules for claimants who reside in Puerto Rico, even though Spanish is the predominant language spoken in the local economy,” the OIG said.

The audit said a person applying for disability in Puerto Rico who cannot speak English “may increase his/her likelihood of receiving disability benefits.”

…the OIG was able to identify 218 cases between 2011 and 2013 where Puerto Ricans were awarded disability due to “an inability to communicate in English.” Furthermore, 4 percent of disability hearings in Puerto Rico involved looking at the individual’s ability to speak, read, write, and understand English.

Well, how about that.  Wondering if that applies to natural born Americans with heavy regional accents, too.  But I digress.

There are a number of factors considered when awarding disability benefits, and within the Continental United States, inability to communicate in English is one of them.  But Puerto Rico is not a state, is not within the continuous 48 where English is the primary language, and any such requirement in that territory is just a bit ridiculous since the people who live there aren’t interested in becoming a state.

However, according to the SSA, the rules under which they live are “one size fits all” and as such even if almost all Puerto Ricans are native Spanish speakers, the disability for not speaking English still applies.

“SSA managers at various disability decision levels stated Social Security is a national program, and the grids must be applied to the national economy, regardless of local conditions,” the audit said.

Is this an undocumented Obama Administration initiative or is it part of a longer trend?  Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) is curious about that and has noted that despite a modest 9.7% growth in population, there was a 230% increase in the Social Security Disability Index between 2000 and 2010.  The audit referenced above was for the years 2011-2013.

At this time, the SSA’s rules are under review and may be revised after public comment period.

About the Author

Cultural Limits
A resident of Flyover Country, Cultural Limits is a rare creature in American Conservatism - committed to not just small government, Christianity and traditional social roles, but non-profits and high arts and culture. Watching politics, observing human behavior and writing are all long-time interests. In her other life, CL writes romance novels under her nom de plume, Patricia Holden (@PatriciaHoldenAuthor on Facebook), and crochets like a mad woman (designs can be found on Facebook @BohemianFlairCrochet and on Pinterest on the Bohemian Flair Crochet board). In religion, CL is Catholic; in work, the jill of all trades when it comes to fundraising software manipulation and event planning; in play, a classically trained soprano and proud citizen of Cardinal Nation, although, during hockey season, Bleeds Blue. She lives in the Mid-Mississippi River Valley with family and two cute and charming tyrants...make that toy dogs.