23:23 GMT29 November 2020
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    The US Social Security Administration has been offering disability benefits to Spanish speakers living in Puerto Rico based on their inability to speak English, despite Spanish being the territory’s primary language.

    The US Social Security Administration [SSA] has been handing out disability benefits to Puerto Ricans due to the fact that they only speak Spanish. This is despite the fact that Spanish, one of the US territory’s two official languages, is the dominant tongue and is spoken by over 95 percent of the population.

    According to findings released last week by the Office of the General Inspector of the SSA, the organization "has applied the medical-vocational guidelines nationally and does not make exceptions for claimants who reside in Puerto Rico, where both Spanish and English are the official languages," leading to payouts for people living in Puerto Rico who don't speak English.

    Workers at the SSA use grids of medical-vocational guidelines to assess whether or not an individual is entitled to disability benefits, which can be claimed if a person is unable to communicate in English, and therefore limited in his or her ability to find a job.

    "We identified 218 cases in Puerto Rico from Fiscal Years 2011 to 2013 where disability determination services used the aforementioned grid rules to grant benefits," said the report. 

    "Moreover, about 4 percent of the hearings we sampled involved these same grid rules." wrote the auditors. The true figure could be even higher, since those writing the report had "incomplete management information," on claimants which had been awarded disability payments according to the grid rules due to their inability to speak English.

    The report referred to a 1987 US District Court judgment that "it is the ability to communicate in Spanish, not English, that is vocationally important in Puerto Rico." and recommended that the SSA "evaluate the appropriateness of the grid rules," in such circumstances.

    According to data from the US Census Bureau, 95 percent of Puerto Rico's 3.5 million inhabitants speak Spanish at home, and 84 percent report that they do not speak English "very well."


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