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Trump team wants to punish people who don't speak English well

The Trump administration is trying to take Social Security disability payments away from people with limited English proficiency.

By Lisa Needham - May 14, 2019
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The Trump administration is floating a rule change that would take Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits away from nearly 10,000 people. In large part, this is happening because it’s another way this administration can harm immigrants.

David Cay Johnston of DC Report explains that under the current rule people can receive SSDI benefits if their English-language skills are limited enough that they are considered unemployable. This covers immigrants for whom English is not their native language, of course, but it also covers people with limited English proficiency (LEP) who are native speakers.

Paltry SSDI benefits (an average of around $1200 per month) provide a minimal but necessary safety net to “people whose language difficulty makes them unemployable in the market.”

The Trump administration, though, believes that people who have difficulty speaking, writing, or understanding English should instead take jobs where limited language proficiency isn’t as much of a barrier. In the proposed rule, the administration suggests people can become cooks, janitors, laborers, or housekeepers.

At first glance, that makes sense — people with limited English proficiency can do jobs where language isn’t as much of a factor. That ignores, however, that the jobs suggested by the administration are all manual labor, and there’s no discussion of whether everyone would have “the stamina, agility, and muscle power to do such work, especially if they are disabled.”

This sets up an impossible scenario for people with limited English skills. Their choices are to work at a physically demanding job, regardless of whether they can do so or to lose their SSDI benefits entirely. It also sends a message to immigrants that if they are allowed in the country, their job opportunities will skew toward manual labor, and if they are unable to do manual work, they will be shut out from SSDI benefits.

And make no mistake — the entire point is that many people won’t have the ability to do such work and will indeed lose their SSDI benefits. The administration is literally counting on it, calculating that approximately 10,000 people will fall off the SSDI rolls, for a savings of around $5.4 billion annually. But that annual savings is a mere drop in the bucket compared to Trump’s giveaways to the ultra-rich. They’ll see tax savings of $37 billion in just 2019 alone.

The Trump team is attempting to balance the budget on the backs of the most vulnerable people in America, but even this breathtaking cruelty won’t even come close to making the numbers work.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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