New Rule Modernizes How We Award Disability Benefits

February 24, 2020 • By

Last Updated: February 24, 2020

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The Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income programs protect some of the most vulnerable people in our society. A successful disability program must evolve and support making the right decision as early in the process as possible. To help us do that, we must modernize the rules and standards we use to evaluate how we determine disability benefits. We are moving forward with a rule change that has been in the works for a number of years and serves to update a more than 40-year-old policy that made the inability to communicate in English a factor in awarding disability benefits. The new rule is effective April 27, 2020.

We are required to consider education to determine if your medical condition prevents work. In 2015, our Inspector General recommended that we evaluate the appropriateness of this policy. Research now shows the inability to communicate in English is no longer a good measure of a person’s education level or the ability to engage in work. The new rule also supports the Administration’s longstanding focus of recognizing that individuals with disabilities can remain in the workforce.

To make the right disability decisions, Social Security disability rules must continue to reflect current medicine and evolution of work. We need to update our rules to keep up with society’s changes.

We owe it to the American public to ensure that our disability programs continue to reflect the realities of the modern workplace. Please share this information with your family and friends.

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About the Author

Commissioner of Social Security Administration (June 17, 2019 - July 9, 2021)


  1. David W.

    Isn’t this just another exclusionary, intolerant policy to scare immigrants and people of color? How can you ignore communication skills when determining whether someone can achieve SGA or self-support? Calling it “modernization” is like calling the current EPA leaders environmental watchdogs.
    America deserves better!

  2. Jim P.

    It seems that the process takes far too long and leaves people on the brink of homelessness when they cannot work as is the case with our 59 year old son, Jeffery Francis Adams.

  3. David R.

    I’m sorry… but why does the language and vagueness of this post seem like the preparation for another screwing by the current administration?! Adding insult to injury, is the sad reminder that it’s all “Paid for at U.S. taxpayer expense”!

    • Susan

      I think you misunderstood this article.. The current administration is trying to rewrite the rules to be more FAIR to the US taxpayer so we don’t have to pay disability payments to people who don’t speak English and that qualifies them for disability. They are not trying to screw us

      • Joe

        She didn’t misread anything. As a 28 year former Disability Hearing Officer this is a political stunt by IQ45 to motivate his base.

        We stole land from Navajo, Hopi and Apache Native Americans. I traveled 200+ times there during my working years. There’s people still without water or electricity. How is this modernizing anything? There’s many of them who worked and paid into SS. Now for the maybe 1/10,000 to 1/25,000 claims this is actually material to the decision – meaning allow or deny, those will now be denied.

        He’s using this as a political weapon just like the proposed $1.5 trillion in cuts, just like the proposed forcing 2.9 million people to have additional needless reviews when they already have them.

        He wants your entitlements. He’s taking them and no one can do a damn thing to stop him as he’s above the law.

        • JanC

          I thought for a second you were going to blame Trump for stealing land from the Indians the way your going off on him..Trump is good for the Country..Sorry you don’t think so..But many people do, and that is why he will win again in 2020.

  4. Jim W.

    Its about time ! A cottage industry has evolved regarding capable and non disabled people applying for SSDI and getting awards for life..Investigate and verify on a perpetual basis ! Must eliminate all the fraud associated with this program…

    • Lesia S.

      I don’t understand how they make it passed the SSDi evaluation and are approved . Have you ever been evaluated ? I have and it’s a joke . They give you an eye test ask you to flip your hands over a few times and listen to you breathe. Thats it .
      The ones who really need it can’t get it and the ones who don’t , are approved . Smh

  5. Kwame B.

    Andrew Saul does NOT have PASVAB/ASVAB USARMY (w/LLC.) Elementary Education & Criminal Justice College Majors in order to afford health care. I bid you all wins.

  6. S M.

    Ideally, this article would link to the new rule so readers can educate themselves on the new interpretation. Please add a link.

  7. Jerry H.

    The original rule “unable to communicate in English” can be read to mean the person cannot communicate in their native language due to a serious TBI injury which for Americans is English. Has nothing to do about which language you speak. you cannot hold a reasonable conversation. After a TBI a person’s mental ability is impaired often without recovery. Simply add after the word English the words “or in their native language”. Rule issue solved. Too much over thinking took place.

  8. Mike C.

    Do you have any statistics on the percentage of claims where this was used as being “material to the decision”? If you don’t know what that means, it’s decision entirely based on this issue – allowance vs denial.

    For me, that may have been more than other States. While my State is predominately Caucasian, we have somewhere around a 7-10% Native American and Hispanic population.

    If I had to guess with my own claims, maybe 1/10,000 was this “material to the decision”.

    To a former employee, this appears after 40 years simply to be a politically motivated decision as it’s an incredibly small number of claims. If you can show numbers on this as to WHY this is justified, that would be great. Thank you.

  9. Stephanie

    There are several illnesses that the SSA will not consider a reason to be unable to be employed. Mental Illness is one. They need to evaluate on a case by case basis. If a person has not held a job since the diagnosis, they should investigate why. If the person has been chronically unemployed why place that burden on families who cannot get ahead for having to provide care and programming for the individual who they deem to be not disabled?

    • Carla

      So someone that only has comprehension of 10 year old cannot add and subtract money and count change and warehouses are too fast paced to keep up the demand what are disabled people suppose to do

      • Dawn

        Poor disabled adults should get ssdi or ssi.They can also get food stamps.They go to top of the list for hud or emergency or public housing. They get medicaid or medicare or both.

  10. Antonia L.

    Not clear if changes. Can you elaborate and or give example??

Comments are closed.