The Social Security Administration (SSA) approved disability benefits for hundreds of Puerto Ricans because they do not speak English, despite the fact that Puerto Rico is a predominantly Spanish-speaking territory.
According to a new audit by the Office of Inspector General (OIG), the agency is misapplying rules that are intended to provide financial assistance to individuals who are illiterate or cannot speak English in the United States. Under the rules, Puerto Ricans are allowed to receive disability benefits for their inability to speak English as well.
“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 agency does not currently have a system in place to keep track of the number of beneficiaries who receive disability insurance for not being able to speak English.
However, 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.
Though 95 percent of Puerto Ricans speak Spanish at home, according to the rules a Spanish-speaking nurse in Puerto Rico would be considered “unskilled,” the OIG said.
The SSA told the OIG that the rules are applied one-size-fits-all.