Removing Inability To Communicate in English as an Education Category, 10586-10603 [2020-03199]

Download as PDF jbell on DSKJLSW7X2PROD with RULES 10586 Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 37 / Tuesday, February 25, 2020 / Rules and Regulations Business Practice Standards; Standards and Models approved for incorporation by reference are: (1) WEQ–000, Abbreviations, Acronyms, and Definition of Terms, standard WEQ–000–2 ([WEQ] Version 003.1, September 30, 2015), including only: the definitions of Interconnection Time Monitor, Time Error, and Time Error Correction; (2) WEQ–000, Abbreviations, Acronyms, and Definition of Terms, ([WEQ] Version 003.2, Dec. 8, 2017)(with minor correction applied July 23, 2019); (3) WEQ–001, Open Access SameTime Information Systems (OASIS), [OASIS] Version 2.2 ([WEQ] Version 003.2, Dec. 8, 2017), excluding: standards WEQ–001–9 preamble text, WEQ–001–10 preamble text; (4) WEQ–002, Open Access SameTime Information Systems (OASIS) Business Practice Standards and Communication Protocols (S&CP), [OASIS] Version 2.2 ([WEQ] Version 003.2, Dec. 8, 2017); (5) WEQ–003, Open Access SameTime Information Systems (OASIS) Data Dictionary, [OASIS] Version 2.2 ([WEQ] Version 003.2, Dec. 8, 2017) (with minor corrections applied July 23, 2019); (6) WEQ–004, Coordinate Interchange ([WEQ] Version 003.2, Dec. 8, 2017); (7) WEQ–005, Area Control Error (ACE) Equation Special Cases ([WEQ] Version 003.2, Dec. 8, 2017); (8) WEQ–006, Manual Time Error Correction ([WEQ] Version 003.1, Sept. 30, 2015); (9) WEQ–007, Inadvertent Interchange Payback ([WEQ] Version 003.2, Dec. 8, 2017); (10) WEQ–008, Transmission Loading Relief (TLR)—Eastern Interconnection ([WEQ] Version 003.2, Dec. 8, 2017); (11) WEQ–011, Gas/Electric Coordination ([WEQ] Version 003.2, Dec. 8, 2017); (12) WEQ–012, Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) ([WEQ] Version 003.2, Dec. 8, 2017); (13) WEQ–013, Open Access SameTime Information Systems (OASIS) Implementation Guide, [OASIS] Version 2.2 ([WEQ] Version 003.2, Dec. 8, 2017); (14) WEQ–015, Measurement and Verification of Wholesale Electricity Demand Response ([WEQ] Version 003.2, Dec. 8, 2017); (15) WEQ–021, Measurement and Verification of Energy Efficiency Products ([WEQ] Version 003.2,Dec. 8, 2017); (16) WEQ–022, Electric Industry Registry ([WEQ] Version 003.2, Dec. 8, 2017); and (17) WEQ–023, Modeling ([WEQ] Version 003.2, Dec. 8, 2017), including VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:34 Feb 24, 2020 Jkt 250001 only: standards WEQ–023–5; WEQ– 023–5.1; WEQ–023–5.1.1; WEQ–023– 5.1.2; WEQ–023–5.1.2.1; WEQ–023– 5.1.2.2; WEQ–023–5.1.2.3; WEQ–023– 5.1.3; WEQ–023–5.2; WEQ–023–6; WEQ–023–6.1; WEQ–023–6.1.1; WEQ– 023–6.1.2; and WEQ–023–A Appendix A. Appendix List of Entities Filing Comments on WEQ Version 003.1 NOPR in Docket No. RM05– 5–025, and the Abbreviations Used To Identify Them • Bonneville Power Administration (9/26/ 16) (Bonneville) • California Independent System Operator Corporation (9/26/16) (CAISO) • Edison Electric Institute (9/26/16) (EEI) • Idaho Power Company (9/23/16) (Idaho Power) • Open Access Technology International (9/27/16) (OATI) • Public Utility District No. 1 of Snohomish County, Washington and the City of Tacoma, Department of Public Utilities, Light Division (collectively, Snohomish/ Tacoma) (9/26/16) • Southern Company Services, Inc. (9/26/ 16) (Southern) • Southwest Power Pool, Inc. and Midwest Independent System Operator, Inc. (9/26/16) (collectively, Joint Commenters) List of Entities Filing Comments on WEQ Version 003.2 NOPR in Docket No. RM05– 5–027, and the Abbreviations Used To Identify Them • Bonneville Power Administration (7/23/ 2019) (Bonneville) • Midcontinent Independent System Operator, Inc. (7/23/2019) (MISO) • North American Energy Standards Board (6/5/2019) (NAESB) • Nevada Power Company and Sierra Pacific Power Company (7/23/2019) (NV Energy) • Open Access Technology International, Inc. (7/22/2019) (OATI) • PJM Interconnection, L.L.C. (7/23/2019) (PJM) • Southern Company Services, Inc. (7/23/ 2019) (Southern) • Southwest Power Pool, Inc. (7/23/2019) (SPP) List of Entities Filing Comments on WEQ Time Error Correction NOPR in Docket No. RM05–5–026, and the Abbreviations Used To Identify Them • Dr. Jonathan E. Hardis (11/13/18) • Dr. Demetrios Matsakis (11/13/18) • North American Electric Reliability Corporation (10/24/2018) (NERC) • North American Energy Standards Board (11/28/2018) (NAESB) • Southwest Power Pool, Inc. (11/13/18) (SPP) [FR Doc. 2020–03244 Filed 2–24–20; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 6717–01–P Frm 00032 20 CFR Parts 404 and 416 [Docket No. SSA–2017–0046] RIN 0960–AH86 Removing Inability To Communicate in English as an Education Category Social Security Administration. Final rules. AGENCY: Note: The Following Appendix Will Not Be Published in the Code of Federal Regulations. PO 00000 SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 ACTION: We are finalizing our proposed regulations to eliminate the education category ‘‘inability to communicate in English’’ when we evaluate disability claims for adults under titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (the Act). This education category is no longer a useful indicator of an individual’s educational attainment or of the vocational impact of an individual’s education because of changes in the national workforce since we adopted the current rule more than 40 years ago. We expect that these revisions will help us better assess the vocational impact of education in the disability determination process. DATES: The final rule is effective on April 27, 2020. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Dan O’Brien, Office of Disability Policy, Social Security Administration, 6401 Security Boulevard, Baltimore, Maryland 21235–6401, (410) 597–1632. For information on eligibility or filing for benefits, call our national toll-free number, 1–800–772–1213, or TTY 1– 800–325–0778, or visit our internet site, Social Security Online, at http:// www.socialsecurity.gov. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: SUMMARY: Background We are finalizing the proposed rules on removing the education category ‘‘inability to communicate in English,’’ which we published in a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) on February 1, 2019 (84 FR 1006). We are revising our rules to remove the education category ‘‘inability to communicate in English’’ based on research and data related to English language proficiency, work, and education; expansion of the international reach of our disability programs; audit findings by our Office of the Inspector General (OIG); 1 and public comments we received on the NPRM. We expect these changes will 1 See Office of Inspector General, Social Security Administration, Audit Report, Qualifying for Disability Benefits in Puerto Rico Based on an Inability to Speak English (April 2015) (OIG report), at https://oig.ssa.gov/sites/default/files/audit/full/ pdf/A-12-13-13062_0.pdf. E:\FR\FM\25FER1.SGM 25FER1 Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 37 / Tuesday, February 25, 2020 / Rules and Regulations help us better assess the vocational impact of education in the disability determination process. In the preamble to the NPRM, we explained that we use a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine whether an adult is disabled under the Act.2 When this final rule becomes effective, we will no longer consider whether an individual is able to communicate in English at the fifth and final step of the sequential evaluation process (step 5). The NPRM also discussed in detail further conforming edits, and the bases for our revisions. Because we are adopting these revisions as we proposed them, we are not repeating that information here. Interested readers may refer to the preamble to the NPRM, available at http://www.regulations.gov by searching for docket number SSA–2017–0046. In the preamble, we refer to the regulations in effect on the date of publication as the ‘‘current’’ rule. We refer to the regulations that will be in effect on April 27, 2020 as the ‘‘final’’ rule. jbell on DSKJLSW7X2PROD with RULES Public Comments We received 216 comments on the NPRM, 212 of which were related to the regulation and are thus available for public viewing at http:// www.regulations.gov.3 These comments were from: • Individual citizens and claimant representatives; • Members of Congress; • National groups representing claimant representatives, such as the National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives and the National Association of Disability Representatives; and • Advocacy groups, such as the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities and Justice in Aging. We carefully considered these comments; below, we discuss and respond to the significant issues raised 2 The sequential evaluation of disability for adults is composed of five steps. We determine whether an individual: Is doing substantial gainful activity (step 1); has one or more severe medically determinable impairments (step 2); has an impairment that meets or medically equals the requirements of the Listing of Impairments in 20 CFR part 404, subpart P, appendix 1 (step 3); can do his or her past relevant work (step 4); and can do any other work, given his or her residual functional capacity, age, education, and work experience (step 5). If at any step, we can make a finding of ‘‘disabled’’ or ‘‘not disabled,’’ we stop the evaluation, make our determination or decision, and do not proceed to the next step. See 20 CFR 404.1520(a)(4) and 416.920(a)(4). 3 We excluded one comment from one of our employees who improperly submitted the comment in the capacity as an employee. We excluded three other comments because they were out of scope or nonresponsive to the proposal. VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:34 Feb 24, 2020 Jkt 250001 by the commenters that were within the scope of the NPRM. We summarized, condensed, and paraphrased the comments due to their length. We organized the comments and our responses by category for ease of review. Eliminating the English Language Distinction Comment: Several commenters supported the proposal to eliminate the ‘‘inability to communicate in English’’ as an education category. One commenter expressed that the current rule gives non-English speakers an advantage over English speakers. Other commenters asserted that the current rule treats persons who are non-English speaking as though they are illiterate; that it creates a negative perception of non-English speakers; and that it suggests only English-speaking persons are educated enough to hold a job. Response: We concur with the commenters’ support for the proposal to eliminate the language distinction. The goal of this final rule is to help ensure our program rules remain current, and we expect that this final rule will allow us to decide disability claims consistent with the changes that have occurred in the national workforce in the last four decades. Comment: One commenter supported our proposal, stating there is no strict correlation between proficiency in English and the ability to make valuable contributions to the U.S. economy. The commenter opined that our current rules might determine a highly-skilled non-English speaker to be disabled, diverting disability funds away from the people who most need them. Response: We acknowledge the commenter’s support for our rule. We, however, disagree that our current rules have diverted disability funds away from those who need them the most. Whether an individual is able to communicate in English is one of many factors we consider when determining disability. For example, if an individual has the residual functional capacity to perform his or her past relevant work, we find the person not disabled, regardless of the person’s ability to communicate in English. Changes in the National Workforce Comment: Several commenters noted that the United States (U.S.) is now a diverse country with work opportunities for non-English speakers. One commenter stated that an ability to speak, read, or write in English is no longer imperative for attaining a job in the U.S. Other commenters similarly opined that the U.S. today is a diverse country with employment opportunities PO 00000 Frm 00033 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 10587 in many industries for non-Englishspeakers, and that a lack of English language proficiency is not the obstacle that it used to be. A commenter also expressed that the ‘‘inability to communicate in English’’ education category is unnecessary, and that changing the current rule is ‘‘overdue.’’ Response: We acknowledge the commenters’ support for our rule. Our current rules, published in 1978,4 are premised on the assumption that ‘‘it may be difficult for someone who does not speak and understand English to do a job, regardless of the amount of education the person may have in another language.’’ 5 As we discussed in the NPRM, and as the commenters said, there have been changes in the national workforce since we added the ‘‘inability to communicate in English’’ category to our rules on evaluating education. These changes and other data and research have led us to conclude that this education category is no longer a useful indicator of an individual’s educational attainment or of the vocational impact of an individual’s education for the purposes of our programs. This final rule reflects those changes in the national workforce, acknowledge the vocational advantage that formal education may provide in any language, and account for expansion of the international reach of our disability programs. Comment: One commenter, citing to the Office of Research, Evaluation, and Statistics (ORES) Analysis of 1980 Census and 2016 American Community Survey: English Proficiency,6 contended that the data we presented does not support the proposal, because job opportunities for individuals with limited English proficiency (LEP) have not grown at the same rate as the LEP population. The commenter asserted 4 43 FR 55349, 55364–65 (1978). Our original rules on the inability to communicate in English stated that this factor ‘‘may be considered a vocational handicap because it often narrows an individual’s vocational scope.’’ 20 CFR 404.1507(f) (1979). In 1980, we reorganized and rewrote a number of rules in simpler, briefer language, including our rule on consideration of education as a vocational factor. 45 FR 55566, 55591 (1980). Our rules on the inability to communicate in English have remained unchanged since that 1980 revision. 5 See 20 CFR 404.1564(b)(5) and 416.964(b)(5). 6 See SSA Office of Research, Evaluation, and Statistics (ORES) Analysis of 1980 Census and 2016 American Community Survey: English Proficiency (ORES English Proficiency Analysis 2016), Table 1: Estimated working-age (25–64) population, by English proficiency and educational attainment, 1980 and 2016 (ORES English Proficiency Analysis 2016 Table 1), and Table 2: Estimated labor force participation of working-age (25–64) population, by English proficiency and educational attainment, 1980 and 2016 (ORES English Proficiency Analysis 2016 Table 2), available at regulations.gov as a supporting and related material for docket SSA– 2017–0046. E:\FR\FM\25FER1.SGM 25FER1 10588 Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 37 / Tuesday, February 25, 2020 / Rules and Regulations that the percentage of working-age LEP individuals with a high school degree in the workforce only increased by 3.7% between 1980 to 2016, while the working-age LEP population increased by 5.4% during the same period. Response: We disagree because the statistics presented by the commenter characterizing our data are incorrect. The increase in the working age (25–64) LEP 7 population between 1980 and 2016 was not 5.4%.8 The working age LEP population more than tripled, increasing from approximately 5.4 million to 17.8 million.9 Also, the increase in the labor force participation rate (LFPR) 10 of the working age LEP population with high school education was not 3.7%. Rather, their LFPR increased by 3.7 percentage points, from 70% to 73.7%.11 See Tables 1–2 below for a summary of relevant data. TABLE 1—WORKING AGE LEP POPULATION IN THE U.S. 1980 5.1% (5.4 million). 2016 10.5% (17.8 million). Change LEP population increased by 5.4 percentage points. TABLE 2—LABOR FORCE PARTICIPATION BY LEP INDIVIDUALS WITH HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMA 1980 2016 Change 70% (819,000). 73.7% (4.4 million). Labor force participation increased by 3.7 percentage points. More importantly, between 1980 and 2016, the working age LEP population more than doubled from 5.1% to 10.5% as a percentage of the US population (approximately 5.4 million to 17.8 million).12 During the same period, the LFPR of the working age LEP population (with no restriction on education) increased from 66.7% to 72.2% (approximately 3.6 million to 12.9 million).13 This means that in 2016, 1 out of 10 working age individuals in the country was a person with LEP, and that 72% of the working age LEP population were in the labor force. The data, while not an exact match for all the parameters we examine, indicates that individuals with LEP were more likely to be part of the labor force in 2016 than in 1980.14 See Table 3 below for a summary of relevant data. TABLE 3 jbell on DSKJLSW7X2PROD with RULES Working age LEP population in the U.S. Labor force participation of LEP population in the U.S. 1980 2016 1980 2016 5.1% (5.4 million) ........................... 10.5% (17.8 million) ...................... 66.7% (3.6 million) ........................ 72.2% (12.9 million). We also looked at employment rate 15 as another indicator of how the national workforce has changed. Because employment rate focuses exclusively on the employed population, it demonstrates that people with LEP are working, and that the percentage of those who are working has increased since 1980. In 2017, the employment rates for the working age LEP population (95.2%) and the working age population that speak only English (95.8%) were about the same.16 The employment rate for people who speak only English changed slightly from 1980 to 2017 (95.2% to 95.8%).17 The employment rate for individuals with LEP increased by a slightly greater percentage over that same period (92.4% to 95.2%).18 The employment rate for those who speak no English, however, increased from 88.1% to 94.3% during the same period.19 Moreover, the number of individuals who speak no English increased substantially, and at a greater rate than all other group, except the LEP group that speaks English not well.20 The group that speaks no English and the group that speaks English not well nearly quadrupled between 1980 and 2017.21 In sum, contrary to the commenter’s assertions, the data we presented supports our final rule removing inability to communicate in English as an education category because, as explained above, the labor force participation and employment rates for individuals with LEP have increased. See Tables 4–5, below, for a summary of relevant data. 7 As explained in the NPRM, the U.S. Census Bureau defines LEP as those who speak English ‘‘well,’’ ‘‘not well,’’ or ‘‘not at all.’’ See U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey (ACS), What State and Local Governments Need to Know, p. 12, n. 8, February 2009, https://www.census.gov/ content/dam/Census/library/publications/2009/acs/ ACSstateLocal.pdf. 8 See ORES English Proficiency Analysis 2016 Table 1. 9 Id. 10 Labor force participation rate refers to the percent of the civilian population that is working or actively looking for work. 11 See ORES English Proficiency Analysis 2016 Table 2. 12 See ORES English Proficiency Analysis 2016 Table 1. 13 Between 1980 and 2016, the LFPR of the individuals who spoke only English increased from 73.4% to 77.5% (approximately 69.8 million to 101.1 million). See ORES English Proficiency Analysis 2016 Table 2. 14 When we published the NPRM, we used 2016 data about the LFPR and the working age population by English proficiency and educational attainment, because this was the most recent data available. Because many commenters referred to the 2016 data that we discussed in the NPRM, some of our responses in this final rule refer to this 2016 data. However, we now have parallel data available for 2017. The 2017 data closely tracks the data from 2016 that we cited in the NPRM. For example, in 2017 the working age LEP population’s LFPR was 72.6%, compared to 72.2% in 2016. For the complete 2017 data, see the Office of Research, Evaluation, and Statistics (ORES) Analysis of 1980 Census and 2017 American Community Survey: English Proficiency and Labor Force Participation (ORES Labor Force Analysis 2017), available at regulations.gov as supporting and related material for docket SSA–2017–0046. 15 In our analysis, employment rate equals the percent of civilian individuals ages 25–64 who report that they are working. 16 For the population that spoke only English, approximately 97.6 million individuals out of 101.9 million in the labor force were employed. For the LEP population, approximately 12.2 million individuals out of 12.8 million in the labor force were employed. See the Office of Research, Evaluation, and Statistics (ORES) Analysis of 1980 Census and 2017 American Community Survey: English Proficiency, Population Size, and Employment (ORES English Proficiency, Population, and Employment Analysis 2017) Table 2 and ORES Labor Force Analysis 2017, available at regulations.gov as a supporting and related material for docket SSA–2017–0046. 17 ORES English Proficiency, Population, and Employment Analysis 2017 Table 2. 18 Id. 19 Id. 20 See the Office of Research, Evaluation, and Statistics (ORES) Analysis of 1980 Census and 2017 American Community Survey: English Proficiency, Population Size, and Employment (ORES English Proficiency, Population, and Employment Analysis 2017) Table 1, available at regulations.gov as a supporting and related material for docket SSA– 2017–0046. 21 Id. The population of LEP individuals who speak no English increased from approximately 682,000 to 2.6 million. VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:34 Feb 24, 2020 Jkt 250001 PO 00000 Frm 00034 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 E:\FR\FM\25FER1.SGM 25FER1 Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 37 / Tuesday, February 25, 2020 / Rules and Regulations 10589 TABLE 4 1980 Total .............................................................................. Speaks only English ..................................................... Speaks English very well ............................................. LEP ............................................................................... Speaks English well ..................................................... Speaks English not well ............................................... Speaks no English ........................................................ 107.2 million ................................................................. 95.2 million ................................................................... 6.6 million ..................................................................... 5.4 million ..................................................................... 3.1 million ..................................................................... 1.7 million ..................................................................... 682,000 ......................................................................... communicate in English’’ individuals who cannot speak English but who have some, or even higher, capacity to read 1980 2017 and understand English. Similarly, we (percent) (percent) find as ‘‘unable to communicate in English’’ individuals who cannot read Population with LEP ................... 92.4 95.2 or write English, but who can speak some English. Therefore, while not an Population that speaks no exact match, the LEP population is an English .............. 88.1 94.3 appropriate proxy for the population we Population that deem ‘‘unable to communicate in speaks only English .............. 95.2 95.8 English’’ under our current rules. In response to the commenters’ Comment: Some commenters asserted assertion that the LFPR for this group that the fact that work opportunities for has not increased, we note that the data the population with LEP expanded is we cited indicates that individuals who irrelevant, because the ‘‘inability to speak no English are participating in the communicate in English’’ education labor force in increased numbers. category only includes the LEP Between 1980 and 2016, the LFPR for population that speaks no English. those who speak no English rose from Commenters pointed out that the ‘‘LEP’’ 54.7% to 61.5% (approximately from rubric includes individuals who speak 373,000 to 1.7 million in absolute English ‘‘well,’’ ‘‘not well,’’ and ‘‘not at numbers).23 24 25 The proportion of the all,’’ so the LEP population is too broad working age population who do not to represent those individuals who are speak English to the total labor force ‘‘unable to communicate in English.’’ nearly tripled, that is, from These commenters contended that the approximately 373,000 out of 78.3 appropriate proxy for individuals with million to approximately 1.7 million out an ‘‘inability to communicate in of 131 million over the same period.26 English’’ would be only those individuals with LEP who speak no Moreover, the 2016 data shows that English. Further, some of these the LFPR of the individuals who spoke commenters asserted that the labor force no English increased more than any participation for individuals who speak other group at the High School Diploma, no English has, in their opinions, not Some College, and College Graduate improved much. levels.27 At the Less than High School Response: We disagree. The ‘‘inability Diploma level, even though the increase to communicate in English’’ education in the LFPR of those individuals who category can apply to a range of spoke no English was not the highest individuals with varying levels of among all groups, the LFPR of the no English communication ability. This is English group (60.5%) was still higher because our agency uses the ‘‘inability than that of only English group to communicate in English’’ category to include all individuals who are unable 23 See ORES English Proficiency Analysis 2016 to do one or more of the following in Table 2. English: (1) Read a simple message; (2) 24 The LFPR for those who speak only English write a simple message; or (3) speak or rose from 73.4% to 77.5% (approximately from 69.8 22 understand a simple message. In other million to 101.1 million in absolute numbers). Id. 25 The LFPR for those who speak no English was words, we currently find as ‘‘unable to TABLE 5—EMPLOYMENT RATE FOR WORKING AGE POPULATION jbell on DSKJLSW7X2PROD with RULES 2017 (million) Working age population in the U.S. 22 See 20 CFR 404.1564 and 416.964. See also Program Operations Manual System (POMS) DI 25015.010C.1.b Education as a Vocational Factor, available at https://secure.ssa.gov/apps10/ poms.NSF/lnx/0425015010. VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:34 Feb 24, 2020 Jkt 250001 61% (approximately 1.6 million in absolute numbers) in 2017. See ORES English Labor Force Analysis 2017. 26 See ORES English Proficiency Analysis 2016 Table 2. 27 Id. PO 00000 Frm 00035 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 170.5 130.9 22 17.6 8.4 6.6 2.6 Rate of population growth (percent) 59.05 37.50 233.33 225.93 170.97 288.24 281.23 (48.9%).28 29 In 1980, the reverse was true.30 Comment: Some commenters raised the concern that the work opportunities for individuals with LEP are not the same throughout the U.S. A few commenters noted that the region in which an individual with LEP lives and the number of people in that individual’s region of residence who speak the same language as the individual could affect job prospects. One commenter stated that no one speaks anything other than English in his region, so he believed that an inability to communicate in English would be a significant barrier to working where he lives. Another commenter said that even though a substantial number of LEP persons live in his region, he doubted that employers would hire them, because a large number of English proficient workers are available in his region. Another commenter asserted that, for nonEnglish speaking individuals, the language the individuals speak might affect their work opportunities. This commenter opined that an individual with LEP who speaks Spanish might have better work prospects than an individual with LEP who speaks another language. Response: Our disability programs are national in scope. According to the Act, it does not matter whether work ‘‘exists in the immediate area in which [a claimant] lives’’ as long as sufficient work exists in the ‘‘national economy.’’ 31 The Act defines the ‘‘national economy’’ as ‘‘the region 28 Id. 29 In 2017, the data shows that the LFPR of those with less than a high school diploma and who spoke no English was 59.2%. The LFPR of those similarly situated individuals who spoke only English was 49.1%. See ORES English Proficiency, Population, and Employment Analysis 2017. 30 In 1980, the LFPR of those with less than a high school diploma and who spoke no English was 54.5%. The LFPR of those with less than a high school diploma who spoke only English was 60.7%. See ORES English Proficiency Analysis 2016 Table 2. 31 See sections 223(d)(2)(A) and 1614(a)(3)(B) of the Act, 42 U.S.C. 423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B). E:\FR\FM\25FER1.SGM 25FER1 10590 Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 37 / Tuesday, February 25, 2020 / Rules and Regulations where [a claimant] lives’’ or ‘‘several regions of the country.’’ 32 The existence of jobs for individuals with LEP may vary depending on the immediate area in which the individual resides. The Act, however, requires us to consider the existence of jobs in the overall national economy (defined as an entire region or several regions of the country). As to the concern that an individual with LEP may not be hired because employers may prefer a person who is proficient in English, the Act prohibits us from considering ‘‘whether a specific job vacancy exists for [a claimant], or whether he would be hired if he applied for work.’’ 33 Consistent with the Act, our regulations explain that when we determine whether a claimant can adjust to other work, we do not consider the hiring practices of employers.34 Again, we are required to consider only whether a claimant could engage in work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy, not how likely claimants are to be hired by certain employers. Comment: Some commenters expressed the view that an increase in the size of the population with LEP does not translate to greater work opportunities for those individuals with LEP. These commenters contended that increased linguistic diversity in the economy might actually make finding work more difficult for workers with LEP, because they would have a harder time finding other workers who speak the same language. Response: The available data does not support the assertions made in this comment. Both the LEP population as a percentage of the U.S. population and their LFPR increased considerably between 1980 and 2016. In fact, during this period, the LFPR of the LEP population increased more than that of the individuals who spoke only English. The LEP population’s LFPR increased by 5.5 percentage points (from 66.7% to 72.2%) while the LFPR of the population that spoke only English increased by 4.1 percentage points (from 73.4% to 77.5%).35 The increase is notable considering the change in the make-up of the U.S. population. In 1980, the LEP individuals made up only 5.1% (5.4 million) of the population.36 In 2016, LEP individuals made up 10.5% (17.8 million) of the U.S. jbell on DSKJLSW7X2PROD with RULES 32 Id. 33 See sections 223(d)(2)(A) and 1614(a)(3)(B) of the Act, 42 U.S.C. 423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B). 34 See 20 CFR 404.1566(c) and 416.966(c). 35 See ORES English Proficiency Analysis 2016 Table 2. 36 ORES English Proficiency Analysis 2016 Table 1. VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:34 Feb 24, 2020 Jkt 250001 population.37 Further, the Brookings Institution’s 2014 study (the Brookings analysis) that evaluated the LEP population in 89 metropolitan areas (home to 82% of nation’s LEP population) in 43 States and the District of Columbia showed that a majority of working-age individuals with LEP are in the labor force.38 While the LFPR increase for the LEP population could theoretically be attributed to multiple factors, the data suggests that there are job opportunities for those with LEP. Comment: One commenter asserted that our reliance on the Brookings analysis was inappropriate because the study did not examine LEP individuals with disabilities, but rather focused on the general LEP population. Response: Under the Act, we find a person disabled if the person cannot do his or her past relevant work or any other work that exists in the national economy in significant numbers. This means that a person found disabled under our rules would not be working, absent special circumstances. Therefore, we examined data about the LFPR of individuals in the general LEP population, rather than focusing on the data about LEP individuals who are disabled. Examining statistics on persons with impairments who are in the labor force would not have been directly relevant to this rulemaking, because if such persons were able to engage in work in the national economy, their impairments would not have been severe enough to meet the Act’s definition of ‘‘disability’’ in the first place. Inability To Communicate in English as a Barrier to Work Comment: A few commenters cited Social Security Ruling (SSR) 85–15,39 which says that we will find an individual disabled if his or her mental capacity is insufficient to meet the demands of unskilled work due to a mental impairment. These commenters equated the effects of ‘‘inability to communicate in English’’ with the effects of having a mental impairment that severely limits the potential work capacity. These commenters stated that 37 Id. 38 Jill H. Wilson, Investing in English Skills: The Limited English Proficient Workforce in U.S. Metropolitan Areas, Metropolitan Policy Program, at Brookings Institution (September 2014), p. 15, 20; and Appendix. Limited English Proficiency Population, Ages 16–64, 89 Metropolitan Areas, 2012, p. 32–37, available at https:// www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/ Srvy_EnglishSkills_Sep22.pdf. 39 SSR 85–15: Titles II and XVI: Capability to Do Other Work–The Medical-Vocational Rules as a Framework for Evaluating Solely Nonexertional Impairments. PO 00000 Frm 00036 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 our rules should treat similarly the effects of the ‘‘inability to communicate in English’’ and those of severely limiting mental impairments. One of these commenters also cited listing 2.09, which addresses ‘‘loss of speech,’’ 40 and said that it is implausible that the ‘‘inability to communicate in English’’ would be completely vocationally irrelevant when we find an individual who is unable to speak disabled under listing 2.09. Response: We disagree with these comments, because the loss of speech under listing 2.09 and an inability to communicate in English (or in any one particular language) are different and cannot be conflated. SSR 85–15 addresses primarily the loss of functional capacity that results from a medically determinable impairment(s) (MDI). Under the Act, an MDI ‘‘results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.’’ 41 The ‘‘inability to communicate in English’’ is not an MDI; rather, it is a subset of the Act’s vocational factor of education. Our rules treat MDIs differently from vocational factors in determining disability. Specifically, we consider the effects of an MDI or a combination of MDIs to determine an individual’s residual functional capacity (RFC).42 We do not include the effects of vocational factors—i.e., age, education, and work experience —when determining an RFC. Under this final rule, how we assess an RFC remains the same, but we will no longer consider an ‘‘inability to communicate in English’’ as a subset of the vocational factor of education for the reasons we explain here and in the NPRM. We note that persons who are unable to communicate due to an MDI would be evaluated under the criteria for that MDI; the inability to communicate generally (presumably in any language, not just English) would be considered in that context, and not as a ‘‘symptom’’ in isolation. The comparison of the ‘‘inability to communicate in English’’ to ‘‘loss of speech’’ under listing 2.09 can be 40 20 CFR part 404, subpart P, appendix I, Listing 2.09. As explained in footnote 2, we use the fivestep sequential evaluation process to determine whether an individual is disabled. At the third step, if we determine that a claimant has an impairment that meets or medically equals the requirements of the Listing of Impairments in 20 CFR part 404, subpart P, appendix 1, we find the person disabled. See 20 CFR 404.1520(a)(4)(iii) and 416.920(a)(4)(iii). 41 Sections 223(d)(2)(C)(3),1614(a)(3)(D) of the Act, 42 U.S.C. 423(d)(3),1382c(a)(3)(D). 42 See 20 CFR 404.1545 and 416.945; and sections 223(d)(2)(C)(3),1614(a)(3)(D) of the Act, 42 U.S.C. 423(d)(3),1382c(a)(3)(D). E:\FR\FM\25FER1.SGM 25FER1 Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 37 / Tuesday, February 25, 2020 / Rules and Regulations jbell on DSKJLSW7X2PROD with RULES similarly distinguished. Listing 2.09 deals with individuals who due to a MDI have an ‘‘inability to produce by any means speech that can be heard, understood, or sustained.’’ 43 We find individuals who satisfy the listing requirements disabled at step 3 of the sequential evaluation process, with no consideration of whether they are able to communicate in English or in another language.44 An inability to communicate in English was a category of education that we considered at step 5 45 and was not a functional limitation. Equating an ‘‘inability to speak’’ to an ‘‘inability to communicate in English’’ due to a lack of English proficiency draws a false equivalency between two groups of individuals who are fundamentally dissimilar. Our program experience and common understanding make it clear that individuals who are unable to produce by any means of speech that can be heard, understood, or sustained because of a severe MDI are substantially more limited than those without such an impairment who merely lack facility with the English language. Comment: One commenter opined that an individual’s ability to communicate in English should remain a relevant vocational factor because every vocational expert 46 would say that language proficiency affects job placement. The commenter reasoned that if that were not the case, the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) would not have included a language component in their job descriptions. Response: The commenter asserted that because the DOT has a language component in their job descriptions, the ability to communicate in English must be a relevant vocational factor. We note that even under our current rules, the inability to communicate in English has no impact on disability determinations for claimants under age 45.47 This underscores that the ability to communicate in English is not an influencing factor as a matter of general principle. Further, we did not state the ability to communicate in English is irrelevant to job placement. Through this rule, we are 43 See 20 CFR part 404, subpart P, appendix I, Listing 2.09. 44 See footnote 40. 45 At step 5, we consider a claimant’s vocational factors, i.e., age, education, and work experience, together with the claimant’s RFC to determine whether the claimant can do work in the national economy. See 20 CFR 404.1520(a)(4)(v) and 416.920(a)(4)(v). 46 Vocational experts are vocational professionals who may provide impartial expert evidence at the administrative hearing level. 47 See 20 CFR part 404, subpart P, appendix 2, Tables No. 1, 2, and 3. VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:34 Feb 24, 2020 Jkt 250001 simply acknowledging the changes that have occurred in the labor market and the workforce in the last four decades. The data we presented in the NPRM demonstrated that individuals with LEP, including those who speak no English, are participating in the U.S. labor force at considerably higher levels than previously. This indicates that more jobs are present in the national economy for the LEP population. We are not legally bound to establish disability determination criteria based on every possible influencing vocational factor. Rather, we are required to determine that jobs exist in the national economy for disability applicants and recipients (if they are determined to no longer be qualified for payments based on medical factors). Comment: Multiple commenters disagreed with the statement from the NPRM that English language proficiency has the least significance for unskilled work, because most unskilled jobs involve working with things rather than with data or people.48 They contended that even unskilled jobs require some level of training, which would include verbal or written instructions. Several commenters also said that many unskilled jobs require public contact and the ability to communicate in English. These commenters noted that unskilled jobs like a ‘‘fast food worker’’ include duties such as taking customer orders and communicating the orders to the kitchen. Some commenters noted that the Occupational Information Network (O*NET) does not list any job for which knowledge of the English language is unnecessary or unimportant. Response: The data we cited does not support the commenter’s view. A large number of individuals with LEP, including those who speak no English, participate in the labor force in a variety of occupations. The Brookings analysis cited in the NPRM shows that over 1 million individuals with LEP, including those who speak no English, are represented in each of the following occupations: Building and grounds cleaning and maintenance; production; construction and extraction; food preparation and serving; transportation and material moving; sales and related occupations; and office and administrative support.49 This data indicates that, contrary to the commenters’ assumptions, employers do find a way to communicate with LEP 48 See 84 FR 1006, 1008 (February 1, 2019), citing 20 CFR part 404, subpart P, appendix 2, sections 201.00(h)(4)(i) and 202.00(g). 49 See 84 FR 1006, 1009. PO 00000 Frm 00037 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 10591 employees, indicating that LEP is not a barrier to all types of employment. Comment: In the NPRM, we noted that the work history of those claimants found disabled under Rule 201.17 or Rule 202.09 (the two main grid rules that we used for the inability to communicate in English) 50 included the following ten occupations: Laborer, machine operator, janitor, cook, maintenance, housekeeping, driver, housekeeper, truck driver, and packer.51 Pointing to this list, several commenters contended that only physically demanding work is available to individuals who speak no English, because the DOT classifies these jobs as ‘‘medium’’ and ‘‘heavy’’ work. These commenters further argued that this list underscores how difficult it would be for older, severely impaired individuals who are unable to communicate in English to adjust to other work available in the national economy. Response: The occupations cited are not all as physically demanding as characterized by the commenters. These occupations are types of work that many claimants whom we found ‘‘unable to communicate in English’’ had previously done, and many of them exist as unskilled, light exertional level work. In a supplemental document, ‘‘Table of example entries of ‘cook,’ ‘machine operator’ and ‘housekeeping’ jobs in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles,’’ 52 we list multiple examples of ‘‘cook,’’ ‘‘machine operator,’’ and ‘‘housekeeping’’ occupations with their corresponding strength requirement and specific vocational preparation.53 As shown in our table, the DOT has multiple entries of various ‘‘cook’’ occupations that range in exertional level from light to medium. As well, the DOT lists numerous entries for ‘‘machine operator’’ occupations that range from sedentary to very heavy exertional levels. ‘‘Housekeeping’’ occupations exist at the light exertional level. Moreover, the ten occupations listed above do not represent all jobs that a person who may be found ‘‘unable to communicate in English’’ can do. Finally, English language proficiency has the least significance for unskilled work because most unskilled jobs involve working with things rather 50 See 20 CFR part 404, subpart P, appendix 2, Tables No. 1 and 2. We refer to the numbered rules in the tables as ‘‘grid rules.’’ 51 See 84 FR 1006, 1009. 52 The supporting document, ‘‘Table of example entries of ‘‘cook, ‘‘machine operator,’’ and ‘‘housekeeping’’ jobs in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles’’ is available at http:// www.regulations.gov as supporting and related material for docket SSA–2017–0046. 53 Specific vocational preparation is the amount of time required by a typical worker to learn the job. E:\FR\FM\25FER1.SGM 25FER1 10592 Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 37 / Tuesday, February 25, 2020 / Rules and Regulations jbell on DSKJLSW7X2PROD with RULES than with data or people. From our adjudicative experience, we know that a significant number of unskilled jobs exist at the sedentary and light exertional levels in the national economy. In fact, in the NPRM we also said that the Brookings analysis shows that over 1 million individuals with LEP, including those who speak English ‘‘not at all,’’ are represented in each of the following occupations: Building and grounds cleaning and maintenance; production; construction and extraction; food preparation and serving; transportation and material moving; sales and related occupations; and office and administrative support. These occupations represent seven of 22 major occupation groups that exist in the national economy.54 Each major group contains numerous jobs that exist at varying exertional levels. As well, we note that sales and related occupations and office and administrative support are not physically taxing by nature. Comment: Several commenters contended that we should not eliminate a rule that affects only a very small group of people who are age 45 or older, are restricted to sedentary or light work, and are without skills. Response: Our goal in publishing this rule is to ensure we use the most accurate, current criteria possible when determining if someone is disabled. The data we cited in the NPRM and here, indicating the existence of jobs in the national economy for individuals with LEP, supports our decision to remove the inability to communicate in English. It is the supportability and applicability of the criteria used, not the number of people affected, that drives this policy. The increase in the LFPR and employment rate in the LEP population apply to both the LEP individuals who are under 45 and the LEP individuals who are 45 or older. We also note that the two groups’ LFPR and employment rate in 2017 were comparable, as shown in Table 6, below.55 54 See https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_ stru.htm. 55 For more detailed information, see the Office of Research, Evaluation, and Statistics (ORES) Analysis of 1980 Census and 2017 American Community Survey: English Proficiency, Labor Force Participation, and Employment, Table 1: Estimated labor force participation of working-age population (25–64), by English proficiency and age, 1980 and 2017, and Table 2: Estimated employment rate of working-age population (25–64), by English proficiency and age, 1980 and 2017, available at regulations.gov as a supporting and related material for docket SSA–2017–0046. VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:34 Feb 24, 2020 Jkt 250001 Response: The Act does not require us TABLE 6—COMPARISON OF LEP LFPR AND EMPLOYMENT RATES FOR AGES to consider whether the individuals who are unable to communicate in 25–44 VS. AGES 45–64 English and individuals who are able to communicate in English have equivalent vocational opportunities when assessing disability. Under the LFPR for LEP Act, the issue of whether an individual Individuals ..... 74.2 70.9 is disabled is determined based on Employment whether an individual, with his or her Rate for LEP Individuals ..... 94.9 95.6 RFC, age, education, and work experience, is able to perform any substantial gainful work that exists in Comment: Some commenters significant numbers in the national contended that we offered no economy.57 We believe the data cited in meaningful evidence that the the NPRM and in this final rule nationwide job prospects for ‘‘older, supports our position that there is such severely disabled workers with very work available. limited functional capacity who are unable to communicate in English’’ Education, Inability To Communicate have improved. They asserted that we in English, and Illiteracy did not establish that a sufficient Comment: Several commenters occupational base of jobs exists for this supported the proposal, including one narrow group of individuals. Response: In the NPRM and this final commenter who noted that an individual’s actual formal education is rule, we presented data demonstrating that the national workforce has changed, the best preparation for future jobs, and that assessing an individual’s education and that individuals who are unable to category based solely on communication communicate in English are working in skills was ‘‘unreasonable.’’ The much greater numbers than previously. Further, the inability to communicate in commenter also indicated that our current rule might have the effect of English is just one of multiple factors stigmatizing as illiterate those people that we consider under the sequential who cannot communicate in English. evaluation process. Thus, workers who Another commenter stated that the are ‘‘severely disabled’’ are likely to ‘‘inability to communicate in English’’ qualify for Social Security disability category is outdated, because it suggests payments based on medical or other that only a person who speaks English factors, rather than on their inability to is educated enough to hold a job. communicate in English. Because this Similarly, one commenter indicated that final rule removes only one category of disregarding education simply because a several from our consideration of person has limited English proficiency education, and education is just one of many factors that we consider under the did not make sense, noting that many of her family members who know little sequential evaluation process, it does English hold advanced degrees from not follow that removal of this factor their home country. would lead to ‘‘severely disabled’’ Response: We acknowledge the people no longer being able to receive support provided by the commenters, disability payments. For example, at and reiterate that we no longer consider step 3 of the sequential evaluation, we English proficiency to be the best proxy will continue to determine whether a for assessing an individual’s education claimant is disabled based solely on level as part of our disability ‘‘medical severity’’ of a claimant’s impairments, without considering age or determination process. We therefore anticipate the revision we are making in English language proficiency.56 this final rule will help us better assess Similarly, at step 5 of the sequential the vocational impact of education in evaluation process, we will still the disability determination process, in consider the factors of age, education, and work experience to determine if the a manner consistent with the current national economy. individual can adjust to other work in Comment: One commenter, citing to the national economy. Comment: Many commenters asserted research and to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2014 American Community that claimants who are unable to Survey data, asserted that immigrants communicate in English have fewer have difficulty transferring their foreign vocational opportunities than the education, foreign credentials, and claimants with the same level of overseas job experience to the U.S. job education who can communicate in market. Another commenter, also English. Ages 25–44 (%) Ages 45–64 (%) 56 See 20 CFR 404.1520(a) and (d) and 416.920(a) and (d). PO 00000 Frm 00038 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 57 See sections 223(d)(2)(A) and 1614(a)(3)(B) of the Act, 42 U.S.C. 423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B). E:\FR\FM\25FER1.SGM 25FER1 jbell on DSKJLSW7X2PROD with RULES Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 37 / Tuesday, February 25, 2020 / Rules and Regulations pointing to the 2014 American Community Survey data, said that a significant number of immigrants are working in jobs for which they are educationally overqualified, and this demonstrates that they are not able to make full use of their educational background in the U.S. job market. One commenter described working with immigrants who were physicians in their native country but who could only qualify as low-paid home health aides in the U.S. because of their poor English (and various licensing requirements). Response: The standard applied at step 5 to determine disability is not whether an individual is able to find work that maximizes the individual’s education and work experience. Rather, the standard is whether an individual who cannot do his or her previous work is able to engage in ‘‘any other kind of substantial gainful work’’ which exists in the national economy, given his or her RFC, age, education, and work experience.58 The phrase ‘‘any other kind of substantial gainful work’’ makes clear that we are not required to identify work that maximizes an individual’s education and work experience. Thus, finding a claimant not disabled because he or she has a capacity to adjust to work that is less than his or her education and skill level is entirely consistent with the Act. This is the case even for claimants who have the ability to fully communicate in English. Comment: One commenter claimed that we did not show how foreign formal education, coupled with the inability to communicate in English, provides any vocational advantage. The commenter contended that we did not demonstrate that workers with a foreign formal advanced education are affected by this rule. The commenter opined that workers with the inability to communicate in English frequently lack a formal education. Response: The Act requires us to consider an individual’s education in some cases when we make disability determinations. We clarify that we are not making conclusions about the numbers of workers with foreign advanced education who are affected by our current rules. Similarly, we acknowledge that individuals with an inability to communicate in English have various education levels, and we will continue to assign individuals to the most appropriate of the remaining education categories (illiteracy, marginal education, limited education, 58 See sections 223(d)(2)(A) and 1614(a)(3)(B) of the Act, 42 U.S.C. 423(d)(2)(A) and 1382c(a)(3)(B). VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:34 Feb 24, 2020 Jkt 250001 and high school education and above).59 Our final rule simply no longer prioritizes English skills over formal education. Comment: Some commenters expressed that having formal education might not lead to a vocational advantage. One of these commenters noted that, even within the U.S., the quality of education varies significantly, and that many American high school graduates, especially those from lowincome families, may have failed to develop reading skills beyond elementary levels due to differences in education funding. In this context, the commenter noted that if there were such variability among American educational institutions, correctly assessing formal education attained from another country would be even more difficult. Further, this commenter and several others noted that formal education from a nonEnglish speaking country might not be helpful if the individual is unable to communicate in English. Response: We disagree. Because we have never assessed the quality of education that a particular school has provided, and that will not change in this rule. When we determine an individual’s education category, we consider the numerical grade level an individual completed if there is no other evidence to contradict it. We will adjust the numerical grade level if other factors suggest it would be appropriate, such as past work experience, the kinds of responsibilities an individual may have had when working, daily activities, hobbies, or the results of testing showing intellectual ability.60 We also disagree with the comment that formal education from a nonEnglish speaking country might not be helpful if the individual is unable to communicate in English. Our current rules explain that educational abilities consist of reasoning, arithmetic, and language skills.61 An individual’s actual educational attainment (reflecting those three areas, among others), not the specific language the individual speaks, generally determines the individual’s educational abilities. Thus, lack of English language proficiency does not diminish an individual’s actual educational abilities, nor does it negate educational abilities attained through formal education. Comment: Several commenters said we should maintain our current rules because the effects of illiteracy and inability to communicate in English on 59 See 20 CFR 404.1564(b)(1)–(4) and 416.964(b)(1)–(4). 60 See 20 CFR 404.1564 and 416.964. 61 Id. PO 00000 Frm 00039 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 10593 an individual’s ability to work would be similar. One commenter, for example, said that those individuals who are illiterate and those who are unable to communicate in English would have a similar inability to read basic safety signs and supervisory instructions. Another commenter expressed that keeping the ‘‘illiteracy’’ education category while eliminating the ‘‘inability to communicate in English’’ education category is inconsistent and biased. The commenter said someone who can read and write in another language, but cannot do so in English, faces the same hardships and challenges in a work place as an illiterate individual. Response: We disagree. Even though we treated illiteracy and inability to communicate in English similarly before this final rule, we maintained two distinct education categories for these situations, demonstrating that they are not the same. Individuals with LEP can have varying levels of education, ranging from none to post-secondary education, while an illiterate individual likely has no or minimal education.62 Further, from a practical standpoint, people with LEP do not experience the disadvantages that people with illiteracy do. For example, the commenter raised the issue of being unable to read safety warning signs. In that circumstance, someone who was illiterate would have no way of knowing what he or she were reading, and no way to find out other than asking someone. Someone with LEP, however, might be able to use a free online translator program on a personal handheld electronic device to find out the meaning of the sign’s message. Regarding the comment that reading documents and following instructions in a workplace may be challenging for some individuals who have no English language proficiency, the data cited in the NPRM and here indicate that many of these individuals are in fact participating in the workforce and are employed, despite the language barrier. Comment: One commenter suggested an alternative to our proposed rule. The commenter suggested that we revise the ‘‘illiteracy’’ education category to include the inability to read or write in any language, not just in English. The commenter contended that, with this revision, older individuals who cannot read or write in any language would be found disabled under the current grid rules that include ‘‘Illiterate or Unable to Communicate in English.’’ The commenter also suggested that we revise the ‘‘inability to communicate 62 See E:\FR\FM\25FER1.SGM 20 CFR 404.1564(b)(1) and 416.964(b)(1). 25FER1 jbell on DSKJLSW7X2PROD with RULES 10594 Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 37 / Tuesday, February 25, 2020 / Rules and Regulations in English’’ category. The commenter recommended that we consider education in another language, particularly at the high school level or above, when determining whether a claimant’s inability to communicate in English has an impact on finding work in the national economy. The commenter further suggested that, for claimants with a considerable amount of education in a language other than English living in the U.S. territories, we should heavily weigh the effects of their education. The commenter noted that, due to complexities involved in determining availability of jobs in the national economy, we must use a vocational expert in such cases. Response: Regarding the commenter’s suggestion about revising the illiteracy category, we note that our current regulations at 20 CFR 404.1564 and 416.964 describe the illiteracy education category without reference to a specific language. As to the other suggestions, as the commenter noted, the options recommended would require our adjudicators to undertake complex analyses of even greater subjectivity, likely leading to inconsistent results. Further, if we were to adopt the suggestion of considering education differently in the U.S. territories, we would create a different set of rules for those living in places where English is not the dominant language. This would not be consistent with the intent of the Act that we apply our rules with national uniformity and consistency.63 Comment: Some commenters asserted that the proposed rule would be too burdensome for us to administer. Specifically, they said our adjudicators would have difficulty assessing education attained in another language or in another country. Response: We acknowledge that evaluating education completed in another country could be complex at times. However, we already do this under our current rules. For claimants who are proficient in English, we assess foreign schooling if they attended school in another country. Under our current regulations, we use the highest numerical grade an individual completed to determine the individual’s educational abilities unless there is evidence to contradict it.64 This will not change under the final rule. We will provide training to our adjudicators about how we will assess education under the new framework of the remaining four education categories. We 63 See H.R. Rpt. 90–544, at 40 (Aug. 7, 1967), and Sen. Rpt. 90–744, at 49 (Nov. 14, 1967). 64 See 20 CFR 404.1564(b) and 416.964(b). VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:34 Feb 24, 2020 Jkt 250001 do not anticipate that the evaluation process will become more burdensome. U.S. Territories and Countries With a Totalization Agreement Comment: A commenter supported our proposal, stating that evaluating disability claims based on an individual’s ability to communicate in English is no longer appropriate considering the international expansion of the Social Security agreements (also known as totalization agreements).65 Response: We acknowledge the commenter’s support for the rule. We agree that the international reach of our disability program has steadily expanded, and we anticipate further expansion. As explained in the NPRM, in 1978 we had a totalization agreement with only one country. In contrast, we now have totalization agreements with 30 countries, and English is the dominant language in only four of those countries. The increasingly global scope of our programs is also illustrated by the fact that, during the public comment period for the proposed rule, two new totalization agreements (with Slovenia and Iceland) went into effect.66 Comment: Several commenters claimed that our proposal appeared to be based on our experience adjudicating claims from individuals in the U.S. territories and outside of the U.S. These commenters asserted that we should not change nationwide policy based on a small number of ‘‘uncommon cases’’ in these areas. One commenter referenced data stemming from an OIG report.67 This data seemed to indicate that during calendar year 2011–2013, there were an average of 122 disability allowances per year in Puerto Rico in which ‘‘inability to communicate in English’’ was a deciding factor. Response: We disagree that we based our proposal on ‘‘uncommon cases.’’ The Puerto Rico data referenced by the commenter was only one source of support cited in the NPRM. As 65 Totalization agreements eliminate dual social security coverage in situations when a person from one country works in another country and is required to pay social security taxes to both countries on the same earnings. Thus, the commenter’s point is that some individuals for whom we would evaluate inability to communicate in English under current policy might not actually be living in a country or territory where English is the dominant language. 66 In the NPRM, we reported we had totalization agreements with 28 countries See 84 FR 1006, 1009. Totalization agreements with Slovenia and Iceland went into effect on February 1, 2019 and March 1, 2019, respectively. See 83 FR 64631 (2018) and 84 FR 6190 (2019). The 30 agreements include Slovenia and Iceland. 67 Qualifying for Disability Benefits in Puerto Rico Based on an Inability to Speak English, available at https://oig.ssa.gov/sites/default/files/audit/full/pdf/ A-12-13-13062_0.pdf. PO 00000 Frm 00040 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 previously noted in this document, one of the reasons for the proposal is the expansion of the population with LEP as a portion of the U.S. population and the increase in their LFPR and employment rate, demonstrating that a lack of English proficiency is no longer the work barrier that it used to be. As stated previously, other reasons for the change include research and data related to English language proficiency, work, and education; the expansion of the international reach of our disability programs; and public comments we received on them in support of our NPRM. Comment: Another commenter expressed that because individuals living in Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories can and do move to one of the 50 States, and because many individuals receiving disability benefits while living abroad have a right to live in the U.S., current rules based on the dominant language of the U.S. should be retained. Response: We note that regardless of the individual’s country of origin, residence or language, we administer the program based on uniform rules, because this is a national program. Comment: Some commenters suggested that we revise the ‘‘inability to communicate in English’’ category to distinguish the areas with more diverse labor markets, such as foreign language enclaves, from the rest of the U.S., where the ability to communicate in English may be more important vocationally. Response: We are required to administer a national disability program that applies rules uniformly across the nation, which means we must apply the same rules regardless of where a claimant resides. Thus, adopting this suggestion would be contrary to the Act, which prohibits us from considering work that exists only in very limited numbers or in relatively few geographic locations as work that exists in the ‘‘national economy.’’ 68 The intent of the Act was to ‘‘provide a definition of disability which can be applied with uniformity and consistency throughout the Nation, without regard to where a particular individual may reside, to local hiring practices or employer preferences, or to the state of the local or national economy.’’ 69 The language of the Act clearly reflects this principle.70 Accordingly, our rules must 68 See sections 223(d)(2)(A) and 1614(a)(3)(B) of the Act, 42 U.S.C. 423(d)(2)(A) and 1382c(a)(3)(B). 69 See H.R. Rpt. 90–544, at 40 (Aug. 7, 1967), and Sen. Rpt. 90–744, at 49 (Nov. 14, 1967). 70 The relevant text in full says: ‘‘An individual shall be determined to be under a disability only if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only E:\FR\FM\25FER1.SGM 25FER1 Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 37 / Tuesday, February 25, 2020 / Rules and Regulations jbell on DSKJLSW7X2PROD with RULES remain national in scope. Removing the category of ‘‘inability to communicate in English’’ and considering actual educational attainment for all claimants keeps our program in line with its national scope, and promotes accurate assessment of disability throughout the 50 States, the District of Columbia, the U.S. territories, and abroad. Comment: One commenter asserted that they perceived us to be concerned about whether ‘‘inability to communicate in English’’ should be considered for the claimants currently living in Puerto Rico or internationally, and that this assumed concern is misplaced. According to the commenter, because we administer a Federal program with a national scope, the Act requires that we consider jobs in the ‘‘national economy,’’ and whether work exists in the ‘‘immediate area in which [the claimant] lives’’ 71 is irrelevant. Response: We disagree with the commenter’s assertion that we proposed this rule based solely, or even primarily, on concerns about limited regions. As we stated above, the examples of Puerto Rico and claimants living outside the U.S. were only part of our justification for this rule. We wanted our rules in this area to reflect the increased existence of jobs in the national economy for LEP workers; the research and data related to English language proficiency, work, and education; the expansion of the international reach of our disability programs; and in response to public comments we received on them in support of our NPRM. However, we do note that the Act does not prohibit us from considering if work exists in significant numbers in the ‘‘immediate area’’ where a claimant lives.72 While we do not require that the work exists in the immediate area in which the claimant lives, we do require that the work exists in significant numbers either in the region where the individual lives (an area larger than the immediate area in which the claimant lives and which may or may not include unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work. For purposes of the preceding sentence (with respect to any individual), ‘‘work which exists in the national economy’’ means work which exists in significant numbers either in the region where such individual lives or in several regions of the country.’’ See sections 223(d)(2)(A) and 1614(a)(3)(B) of the Act, 42 U.S.C. 423(d)(2)(A) and 1382c(a)(3)(B). 71 Id. 72 Id. VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:34 Feb 24, 2020 Jkt 250001 jobs in the immediate area) or in several regions of the country. Comment: One commenter requested that we share more data to enable the public to better assess whether issues with ‘‘inability to communicate in English’’ are national in scope. The commenter asked for data on allowances under ‘‘inability to communicate in English,’’ and the educational attainment of those claimants by State. The commenter opined that this would confirm either that there is a national problem in the application of ‘‘inability to communicate in English,’’ or that the problem is a local one based in the unique characteristics of Puerto Rico as a territory. Response: We believe the data we have provided already about some State allowance rates under Rule 201.17 and 202.09 in the NPRM’s supporting material is sufficient to demonstrate that this rule is based on more than just information from Puerto Rico. Because we are administering a national program, providing more state-by-state data is out of context. As we discussed in the NPRM and this final rule, the data we cited indicates there have been changes in the national workforce since we published our current rules over 40 years ago. These changes demonstrate that the ‘‘inability to communicate in English’’ education category is no longer a useful indicator of an individual’s educational attainment or of the vocational impact of an individual’s education. Comment: One commenter suggested that we should not disregard this rule in its entirety, but apply it in limited circumstances. As an example, the commenter said that we should codify the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in Crespo v. Secretary of Health and Human Services.73 This suggestion would allow us to continue to apply the current rule where English is the predominant language. Response: The commenter asked us to apply this final rule disparately in different regions. In the Crespo case example cited by the commenter, the court found it acceptable to consider, during our disability evaluation process, the claimant’s ability to communicate in Spanish in place of the ability to communicate in English, because the claimant was a resident of Puerto Rico. In recommending that we apply Crespo nationally, the commenter is therefore suggesting that we should only proceed with the final rule for areas in which our beneficiaries may reside, but English is not the primary spoken 73 See Crespo v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 831 F.2d 1 (1st Cir. 1987). PO 00000 Frm 00041 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 10595 language (e.g., Puerto Rico; foreign countries with whom we have totalization agreements). The commenter, therefore, is recommending that we maintain the current rule in the 50 States. Regarding the specific example of Crespo, as even the commenter noted, the court explicitly declined to apply the rationale outside of this specific case.74 As well, we administer a national disability program that applies rules uniformly across the nation, regardless of where a claimant resides. Implementation, Efficiency, and Burden Comment: One commenter said that our employees believe the proposed rules would lead to inefficient and unfair resolutions of claims. The commenter stated that he had spoken with one former and one current SSA employee about the proposal. Response: We disagree with this comment. We decide each claim fairly and always strive to provide timely decisions. As part of our implementation of this final rule, we will provide comprehensive training to our staff to ensure we continue to meet the obligation of providing timely, accurate, and consistent decisions. We will also continue to monitor for quality in the decisionmaking process to ensure our adjudicators apply the rules correctly. Comment: In the NPRM, we proposed to apply this rule for ‘‘new applications, pending claims, and continuing disability reviews (CDR), as appropriate, as of the effective date of the final rule.’’ 75 Several commenters opposed the proposed implementation process. These commenters said that using the new rules for claims pending at the time this final rule goes into effect is inefficient. Some commenters asked that we not apply this final rule to claims filed prior to the effective date. They expressed concern that claimants may experience a delay in receiving their decisions because we may need to hold supplemental hearings for claims that are in post-hearing status as of the effective date of this final rule. 74 Id. at 7. (‘‘In using the grid as a framework for consideration of the vocational testimony, therefore, the ALJ was justified in treating claimant’s fluency in Spanish as tantamount to fluency in English. See 20 CFR 404.1564(b)(5) (inability to communicate in English is a vocational consideration ‘[b]ecause English is the dominant language of the country’). In so holding, we do not suggest that the Secretary, in relying on the grid for a dispositive finding on disability in appropriate cases where no significant nonexertional impairments are present, is free to substitute Spanish for English in the requirements of the grid whenever a claimant resides in Puerto Rico. We need not, and do not, reach that issue.’’) 75 86 FR 1006 and 1011. E:\FR\FM\25FER1.SGM 25FER1 10596 Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 37 / Tuesday, February 25, 2020 / Rules and Regulations jbell on DSKJLSW7X2PROD with RULES Another commenter asked that we clarify whether the proposed changes would apply to new applicants only, and whether current recipients of disability benefits would need to reapply when this final rule becomes effective. The commenter noted that a non-English speaking individual whom we previously found disabled may have a reliance interest. This commenter suggested we should allow that person to retain payments if our medical review process reveals that his or her medical condition remained unchanged. Response: Our standard practice is to implement the final rule as of the effective date for all pending claims, CDRs, and new applications. We will do the same for this regulation.76 We disagree that this implementation process will be inefficient and note that, in general, it will not require us to hold supplemental hearings. Because we already ask for education information as part of our standard disability determination process (at the time of initial application filing and again at the reconsideration and hearing levels), and this information is not dependent on the claimant’s ability to communicate in English, we will be able to use that existing information when we implement the final rule. For example, we ask all claimants to provide the highest grade of school completed; to specify whether they received special education in school; and to disclose if they completed vocational school. We therefore do not anticipate needing more education information than what we already have as part of our existing processes. Further, as discussed above, we will provide training to adjudicators to ensure accurate, effective, and timely adjudication of claims. Current beneficiaries will not need to reapply. However, we will use this final rule when we review their cases under our CDR process. This change in the rule will only affect those who experience medical improvement and were previously assigned to the inability to communicate in English education category. For these individuals only, we will redetermine their education category and assign one of the four 76 With only one exception, namely Revisions to Rules Regarding the Evaluation of Medical Evidence, 82 FR 5844 (January 18, 2017), we have always implemented our final rules as of the effective date for all pending claims, CDRs, and new applications. We implemented that regulation differently because individuals who filed claims before the effective date of those final rules may have requested evidence, including medical opinions from treating sources, based on our thencurrent policies. 82 FR at 5862.This reliance-based justification is not applicable here because we expect additional development of evidence related to this final rule to be minimal. VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:34 Feb 24, 2020 Jkt 250001 remaining education categories based on their level of education. Because we use the Medical Improvement Review Standard to determine if an individual’s disability continues or ceases in a CDR, this final rule will not affect a beneficiary whose medical condition has not changed since he or she was last found disabled. Comment: Multiple commenters asserted that the proposed rule would require us to obtain the testimony of vocational experts at the hearing level to assess whether specific jobs require the ability to communicate in English. Some commenters stated that the proposed rule would delay favorable decisions for many claimants unable to communicate in English, because vocational expert testimony is available only at the hearing level. One commenter said that because language limitations affect individuals’ RFCs, the hypothetical questions presented to vocational experts at hearings should include the effects of an inability to communicate in English. Another commenter said that the proposed rules would lengthen the hearings, because vocational experts would need to respond to additional hypothetical questions about whether certain jobs require the ability to communicate in English. Response: We disagree with these comments. The same rules will apply at all adjudicatory levels. Therefore, even at the hearing level where a vocational expert may testify about the demands and existence of jobs in the national economy, adjudicators will not consider the effects of inability to communicate in English. With regard to the comment that we would need to incorporate the effects of language into a hypothetical RFC posed to vocational experts, as we noted previously, under our current rules and this final rule, we do not consider the effects of an inability to communicate in English when we assess an individual’s RFC. We consider only the effects of an MDI or a combination of MDIs to determine an individual’s RFC.77 ‘‘Inability to communicate in English’’ is not an MDI. When the final rule takes effect, we will not consider whether an individual can communicate in English at any step of the sequential evaluation process. Thus, if claimants or their representatives raise the issue of the inability to communicate in English in a hypothetical question posed to a vocational expert during a hearing, we will find it to be out of scope for the purposes of determining disability. Comment: Several commenters asserted that this rule would cause more 77 See PO 00000 20 CFR 404.1545 and 416.945. Frm 00042 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 appeals, would increase the disability hearings backlog, and would increase our administrative costs. Response: The changes in this final rule are straightforward, and represent an incremental change to our larger disability evaluation process. An estimated increase of 22,382 hearings spread over the 10-year period of fiscal years (FY) 2020–2029 is small relative to the number hearings we hold annually (for example, we made over 700,000 hearing decisions in FY 18).78 Therefore, we do not anticipate difficulty administering the changes with current resources. We have not seen evidence to indicate that the proposed rule, as implemented, would substantially increase the number of pending hearings, or that it would impose unmanageable administrative costs. See the ‘‘E.O. 12866’’ section of the preamble, further below, for our specific estimates of administrative costs associated with this rule. Discrimination and Disparate Impact Comment: Some commenters expressed that they supported the proposed rules because they believed the rules would allow us to more fairly assess education and account for increased diversity in the U.S. One commenter said that the proposed rules would allow us to adjudicate disability claims more equitably. Another commenter criticized the current rules, opining that the rules may impose social and political stigmas upon non-English speaking individuals. One commenter asserted that measuring English abilities is neither an effective, nor a culturally sensitive way to assess an individual’s ability to work. Response: We acknowledge and note the commenters’ support for the rule. As stated above, we expect that the revisions will help us better assess the vocational impact of education in the disability determination process. Comment: Many commenters said the proposed rules would have a negative effect on vulnerable populations, such as immigrants, older people, women, refugees, individuals with low-income, and individuals with LEP. Some commenters expressed the proposed rules would have a disparate impact and discriminatory effect on thousands of older, non-English-speaking citizens. Other commenters were concerned that the proposed rules would result in the denial of benefits to a large number of claimants. One commenter said that denial and loss of benefits would cause economic harm to the affected claimants. Another 78 See E:\FR\FM\25FER1.SGM https://www.ssa.gov/appeals/. 25FER1 jbell on DSKJLSW7X2PROD with RULES Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 37 / Tuesday, February 25, 2020 / Rules and Regulations commenter noted that the proposed rules could contribute to ‘‘generational poverty.’’ One commenter, citing Dorsey v. Bowen, 828 F.2d 246, (4th Cir. 1987), noted that the ‘‘Social Security Act is a remedial statute to be broadly construed and liberally applied in favor of beneficiaries.’’ This commenter asserted that we are strictly construing the Act against the most vulnerable of our citizens. Another commenter said that the Supreme Court has interpreted that discrimination based on language or English proficiency is a form of national origin discrimination. Another commenter said that we should undertake an analysis of the potential discriminatory impact of the proposed rules. One commenter said discrimination by government against taxpayers because of their race or national origin is strictly prohibited under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Some commenters said the proposed rules discriminate against individuals based on their national origin, race, or immigration status. One such commenter contended that the proposed rules demonstrate a hostility towards non-native born Americans. Response: We disagree with the commenters’ statements that this rule will have a negative effect on vulnerable populations; is discriminatory in intent or effect; or that it is motivated by hostility towards a certain group of people. We have not seen any evidence (nor did the commenters present any) that the proposed rules, as implemented, would negatively affect vulnerable populations, because we will continue to assess other eligibility criteria for such populations besides the ability to communicate in English. In response to claims that the rule is discriminatory, we note that the new rule, once implemented, will apply the same standards for evaluating educational level to all claimants, regardless of country of origin or residence and primary language. Similarly, we strongly disagree with the statement that our rule was motivated by hostility towards a certain group of people. Like all Federal agencies, we are obligated to serve all members of the public equally. We take that responsibility seriously, and we do not discriminate against individuals based on race, age, gender, language, national origin, immigration status, or for any other reason. We intend for this rule to help us better assess the vocational factor of education in the contemporary work environment for all claimants and beneficiaries. VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:34 Feb 24, 2020 Jkt 250001 The proposed rule also does not violate the equal protection component of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. In the NPRM, we articulated a basis for no longer distinguishing between those who are unable to communicate in English and those who are able to communicate in English at step 5 of the sequential evaluation process. Further, under this final rule, we will apply the same standard in assessing education for all claimants. This final rule does not categorize individuals based on any particular identities, nor does it deprive an individual of a protected property interest. Our regulations provide due process to individuals with appropriate procedural protections. This final rule is consistent with the constitutional principles of equal protection. Finally, the principle that the Act should be ‘‘broadly construed’’ in favor of beneficiaries does not mean that we should not, or may not, revise our rules to account for changes in the national workforce. The quoted statement is an interpretative standard sometimes applied by the courts in the judicial review of agency decisions; it does not mean that we are required to develop rules that only favor beneficiaries, or that do not result in any program and administrative savings. Comment: Some commenters asserted that the proposed rules are ‘‘arbitrary and capricious.’’ Response: The commenters appear to be referring to the standard that courts apply when they review rules promulgated after informal rulemaking.79 Under this standard, the agency must examine the relevant data and articulate a satisfactory explanation for its action, including a rational connection between the facts found and the choice made. A rule may be arbitrary and capricious, for example, if an agency has relied on factors which Congress has not intended it to consider, entirely failed to consider an important aspect of the problem, offered an explanation for its decision that runs counter to the evidence before the agency, or is so implausible that it could not be ascribed to a difference in view or the product of agency expertise.80 None of that is true here. In this rulemaking, the final rule is supported by the objective data we have provided, and we have explained our justifications for the proposed change in the NPRM and this final rule in detail. The final rule is not inconsistent with the Act or 79 See 5 U.S.C. 706(2)(A). Vehicle Manufacturers Association of the United States v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., 463 U.S. 29, 43 (1983). 80 Motor PO 00000 Frm 00043 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 10597 any other Federal law, and we have considered and responded to the significant concerns raised by the commenters. Our rule therefore cannot be considered ‘‘arbitrary or capricious’’ under the law. Comment: Some commenters asserted that our proposed rules conflicted with various legal authorities. A few commenters opined that the NPRM conflicted with Federal laws that protect the rights of persons with LEP, who experience discrimination in health care, employment, and public services, under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and implementing regulations. One commenter stated that the NPRM violated Executive Order 13166, which directs Federal agencies to ensure that all persons with LEP should have meaningful access to federallyconducted and federally-funded programs and activities. Response: This final rule does not violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964, its implementing regulations, Executive Order 13166, or any other provision of Federal law. We are eliminating a rule that reflected the existence of jobs in the economy for certain individuals who were unable to communicate in English at the time we issued it in 1978. The final rule we are adopting today simply reflects the changes in the national workforce since 1978, and the greater existence of jobs for individuals with LEP. When the final rule takes effect, we will no longer consider an individual’s English proficiency when determining an individual’s education. Such a rule does not preclude individuals with LEP from having meaningful access to our programs; it merely updates our rules to reflect that an inability to communicate in English is no longer a useful indicator of an individual’s educational attainment or of the vocational impact of an individual’s education. We remain committed to fulfilling our responsibilities and obligations towards individuals with LEP, and this final rule is fully consistent with Federal laws that protect the rights of persons with LEP. We have a longstanding commitment to ensure that individuals with LEP have equal access to our programs. For example, we provide free interpreter services,81 and Social Security information is publicly available in several languages.82 This final rule has no effect on these services, which ensure that all individuals with 81 Available at https://www.ssa.gov/ multilanguage/langlist1.htm. 82 Available at https://www.ssa.gov/site/ languages/en/. E:\FR\FM\25FER1.SGM 25FER1 10598 Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 37 / Tuesday, February 25, 2020 / Rules and Regulations LEP will continue to have meaningful access to our programs. jbell on DSKJLSW7X2PROD with RULES Department of Homeland Security (DHS)’s NPRM on Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds Comment: Multiple commenters asserted that our NPRM does not align with DHS’s NPRM, ‘‘Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds,’’ published on October 10, 2018.83 Specifically, these commenters cited the following excerpt from the DHS NPRM: ‘‘an inability to speak and understand English may adversely affect whether an alien can obtain employment. Aliens who cannot speak English may be unable to obtain employment in areas where only English is spoken. People with the lowest English speaking ability tend to have the lowest employment rate, lowest rate of full-time employment, and lowest median earnings.’’ 84 The commenters also noted Census data research DHS had cited to support this assertion. Commenters expressed that the two proposed rules were not in accordance with each other because the DHS proposal stated that an ability to speak English directly affects the ability to find work, whereas our proposal stated that an ability to speak English is irrelevant for an individual’s ability to find employment. Response: Because we administer different programs with different legal mandates than DHS does, our proposed rule explored different aspects of job availability and English proficiency data than DHS did. For the purposes of our programs and the population we are examining, we believe the data we reviewed and presented supports our final rule consistent with our statutory 83 83 FR 51114; Available at https:// www.federalregister.gov/documents/2018/10/10/ 2018-21106/inadmissibility-on-public-chargegrounds. We note that DHS also published a corresponding final rule on August 14, 2019, 84 FR 41292, which is available at https:// www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/08/14/ 2019-17142/inadmissibility-on-public-chargegrounds. However, several district courts have ordered that DHS cannot implement and enforce this final rule. The court orders also postpone the effective date of the final rule until there is final resolution in these cases. Some of the injunctions are nationwide and prevent DHS from implementing the rule anywhere in the United States. We note, though, that the Ninth Circuit recently granted a stay of one of these nationwide injunctions because ‘‘DHS has shown a strong likelihood of success on the merits, that it will suffer irreparable harm, and that the balance of the equities and public interest favor a stay’’ pending appeal. City and County of San Francisco v. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, 944 F.3d 773, 781 (9th Cir. 2019). We also note that, more recently, the Supreme Court granted a stay of another nationwide injunction in one of these cases. Department of Homeland Security v. New York, No. 19A785, 2020 WL 413786 (U.S. Jan. 27, 2020). 84 See 83 FR 51114, 51195 (internal footnotes omitted). VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:34 Feb 24, 2020 Jkt 250001 mandate to consider, among other things, an individual’s education and the existence of work in the national economy. DHS’s legal mandate is to determine whether an alien (that is, a non-citizen, non-U.S. national person) seeking admission to the United States or adjustment of status to that of a lawful permanent resident is likely at any time in the future to become a public charge. We are not projecting the likelihood of LEP individuals being hired for particular types of jobs, i.e. those that would make the alien more likely to be self-sufficient. We are only stating that jobs exist in the national economy that LEP individuals perform. Finally, some of the commenters inaccurately characterized our NPRM as stating that the ability to speak English is irrelevant to finding work. We did not make this assertion. Rather, we stated that, as a result of changes in the national workforce over the last 40 years, we no longer consider English proficiency to be an appropriate proxy for assessing an individual’s education level as part of our disability determination process. Other Comments Comment: Some commenters supported this proposal based on their assumption that it would improve Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program integrity and save money. One commenter expressed the view that we would prevent an estimated 10,500 adults 85 with ‘‘manageable work limitations’’ from receiving SSDI or SSI disability benefits, keeping more resources for those who are ‘‘truly needy.’’ Response: The purpose of this final rule is not to save money or to make it more difficult for individuals to qualify for disability benefits. Rather, we anticipate that this final rule will allow us to better assess the vocational impact of an individuals’ education on their ability to work in the contemporary work environment. Finally, we note that our standard for determining disability is based on the criteria in the Act and our regulations, and not whether an individual has ‘‘manageable work 85 Although the citation provided by this commenter refers to the ‘‘Office of the Inspector General, Qualifying for disability benefits in Puerto Rico based on an inability to speak English, Social Security Administration (2015),’’ we believe the number 10,500 refers to the estimated reduction of 6,500 Federal Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) beneficiary awards per year and 4,000 SSI recipient awards per year on average over the period FY 2019–28 that our Office of the Chief Actuary provided in the NPRM. See 84 FR 1006, 1011. PO 00000 Frm 00044 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 limitations’’ or whether the individual is ‘‘truly needy.’’ Comment: Some commenters asserted that the criteria for qualifying for disability benefits are already strict enough, and that we should not impose additional restrictions or barriers to qualifying for benefits. Response: The rule does not create additional restrictions or barriers to qualifying for benefits; rather, it is modifying the way in which we assess educational level achieved, which is an existing category we examine. As discussed above and in the NPRM, since 1978, the national workforce has become more linguistically diverse, and employment rate and LFPR have expanded considerably for individuals with LEP. This final rule thus recognizes that English proficiency is no longer an appropriate proxy for assessing education as part of our disability determination process. Comment: Some commenters said that the inability to communicate in English is not a disability, suggesting our rules equated it with being disabled. Response: We note that inability to communicate in English is one of many factors we consider in determining disability under the current rules. An inability to communicate in English by itself is not a determinative factor when determining whether an individual is disabled under our current rules. Comment: One commenter stated that we should not pursue a final rule because we had not completed a full Regulatory Impact Analysis (RIA) for the regulation. Other commenters opined that the NPRM did not account for significant and foreseeable costs to society. These commenters asserted that burdens created by this rule would increase costs to state and local governments and community organizations, because they would likely spend more on things such as general assistance and homelessness assistance to meet the needs of those harmed by this rule. Response: As we report below and as we reported in the NPRM, we expect this final rule will have a financial impact on the Social Security trust fund of over $100 million a year.86 Regulations that have annual effect on the economy of $100 million or more are deemed economically significant and have additional analytical requirements under E.O. 12866, such as requiring an RIA. Our Office of the Chief Actuary estimated this rule would technically meet this threshold: For the period of FY 2020 through FY 2029, they estimated a reduction of $4.5 86 84 E:\FR\FM\25FER1.SGM FR 1006, 1011. 25FER1 jbell on DSKJLSW7X2PROD with RULES Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 37 / Tuesday, February 25, 2020 / Rules and Regulations billion in Federal Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) benefit payments and a reduction of $0.8 billion in Federal SSI payments. However, we have adequately accounted for the direct effects of this rulemaking through our analysis of transfer impacts and administrative costs. While not a separate RIA document, we believe the evaluations completed in the NPRM and this final rule fulfill our obligation to review the direct effects of the rulemaking. Some of the costs mentioned by commenters, such as money spent on homelessness assistance, are out of the scope of our rulemaking and associated analysis. A Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA) analysis is also required for rules that have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities (SISNOSE); the commenters allude to this requirement with their assertion that this rule will ‘‘increase costs to state and local governments and community organizations.’’ Specifically, the RFA 87 requires an RFA analysis under the following circumstances: ‘‘[w]henever an agency is required . . . to publish general notice of proposed rulemaking for any proposed rule, . . . the agency shall prepare and make available for public comment an initial regulatory flexibility analysis.’’ That analysis must ‘‘describe the impact of the proposed rule on small entities.’’ In addition, when the agency subsequently publishes a final rule, it must ‘‘prepare a final regulatory flexibility analysis.’’ The requirement to prepare an initial or final regulatory flexibility analysis, however, ‘‘shall not apply to any proposed or final rule if the head of the agency certifies that the rule will not, if promulgated, have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities.’’ The agency must publish such certification in the Federal Register when it publishes its notice of proposed rulemaking or final rule, ‘‘along with a statement providing the factual basis for such certification.’’ The agency must provide a copy of its certification and accompanying statement to the Chief Counsel for Advocacy of the Small Business Administration. Because this final rule only directly affects individuals, it will not impose any direct costs on small entities, including small government jurisdictions. We consider the potential costs commenters cited to be indirect, and as such they would be outside the scope of our SISNOSE determination. Comment: One commenter indicated that we should not require individuals to speak English to receive disability 87 5 U.S.C. 601–612 VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:34 Feb 24, 2020 Jkt 250001 benefits. Another commenter opposed the proposed rules because, according to the commenter, we may deny benefits to people who cannot speak because of a medical impairment. Response: The comment implies that this final rule would require individuals to speak English to receive disability benefits. Neither the current rule nor this final rule requires individuals to be able to communicate in English to obtain benefits. When this final rule becomes effective, whether or not an individual is able to communicate in English will be irrelevant for the purposes of disability determination. This final rule does not affect people who cannot speak because of a medical impairment. As we explained earlier, we will continue to evaluate medical impairment-related speech difficulties under our rules to determine whether these limitations meet a listing or preclude the individual from performing substantial gainful work. Comment: Several commenters opposed the proposed rule, contending that LEP individuals with disabilities face barriers to learning English. They noted that the assumption underlying the proposed rule is that LEP individuals with disabilities can learn English in order to work. They argued that we did not acknowledge that cognitive and physical disabilities might interfere with their ability to learn a new language. Other commenters opposed the proposal on the grounds that many individuals with LEP may not have the resources (e.g., time, money, access to classes) to learn a new language. Other commenters opined that an inability to learn a new language might indicate that the person has challenges in adjusting to new work. These commenters argued that difficulty in learning to communicate in English can therefore be a proxy for difficulty learning the duties of a job, and for this reason, we should retain ‘‘inability to communicate in English.’’ Response: Many of these comments are outside the scope of our proposal and disability program. We do not consider whether an individual is able to learn English under the current rules. We also do not need the factor ‘‘inability to communicate in English’’ to determine whether an individual is likely to have difficulty learning the duties of a job. We already consider an individual’s cognitive and physical limitations related to MDIs that may interfere with an individual’s ability to perform basic work activities. This final rule does not change this. Comment: One commenter said we should not apply the proposed rules to individuals who may otherwise be PO 00000 Frm 00045 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 10599 eligible for disability under the ‘‘arduous unskilled work’’ medicalvocational profile.88 To be found disabled under the profile, an individual must possess no more than a marginal education and must have spent 35 years performing arduous unskilled work. The commenter expressed that even if such an individual has had more than a marginal education in another country, it did not allow him or her to do anything other than the arduous unskilled work. The commenter argued that we should not penalize such an individual for having an education that does not serve him or her in the U.S. Response: Under our final rule, inability to speak English will no longer be a proxy for education. For individuals who fall under the arduous unskilled physical labor profile, we will still examine their years of history performing solely arduous unskilled physical labor. As well, we will more closely examine the actual education level attained. Since we will still look at education and work history, individuals who fall under the profile will not be disadvantaged. Comment: One commenter found it problematic that the proposed rules would bar an adjudicator from lowering an individual’s education category based on ‘‘inability to communicate in English.’’ The commenter also noted that claimants who participated in an English learner program but remain unable to communicate in English likely did not attain the level of reasoning, arithmetic, and language abilities that the person was supposed to have gained. The commenter reasoned that such individuals could not have developed educational abilities due to inability to communicate in English, and we should therefore consider this in our proposal. Response: We agree that in cases where individuals receive elementary or secondary education in a language other than their primary language, the language learning process may or may not affect their actual educational attainment. Our current regulations acknowledge that the numerical grade level completed in school may not represent an individual’s actual educational abilities, which may be 88 The arduous unskilled physical labor profile applies when an individual has no more than a marginal education and work experience of 35 years or more during which he or she did only arduous unskilled physical labor. The individual also must not be working and no longer able to do this kind of work because of a severe impairment(s). If these criteria are met, we will be find the individual disabled. See 20 CFR 404.1562(a) and 416.962(a); and POMS DI 25010.001 Special MedicalVocational Profiles, available at https:// secure.ssa.gov/poms.NSF/lnx/0425010001. E:\FR\FM\25FER1.SGM 25FER1 10600 Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 37 / Tuesday, February 25, 2020 / Rules and Regulations jbell on DSKJLSW7X2PROD with RULES higher or lower.89 Therefore, to the extent supported by individual case evidence, we will continue to consider the related impact on educational abilities when assigning an education category in these cases. Comment: One commenter opposed the proposed rule, citing a decline in American high school graduates’ foreign language skills as a reason. The commenter said that only 20 percent of today’s high school graduates have taken a foreign language class, and that colleges have closed 651 foreign language programs between 2013 and 2016. The commenter cited this data to support the assertion that many future employers would be unable to communicate even simple statements with foreign language-speaking employees. The commenter implied that this would affect the workforce, and that we failed to consider such effects in our rulemaking. Response: The evidence we cited in the proposed rule and repeated here, demonstrates that many individuals with LEP are currently in the labor force; this indicates that their employers’ potential inability to converse with them in their primary language is not a barrier to employment.90 Further, our rulemaking (and rulemaking in general) can only contemplate evidence that actually exists; it is outside the scope of rulemaking to consider an assumption about whether future employers will be able to communicate in a foreign language to accommodate their employees with LEP. Comment: We received comments that we should retain the ‘‘inability to communicate in English’’ for health and work safety reasons. Some commenters asserted that individuals with LEP in the national workforce are at a greater risk for occupational injuries and illnesses, most often due to language barriers. They claimed the proportion of fatal and nonfatal workplace injuries experienced by immigrants has been increasing.91 Similarly, another commenter said we should not adopt the proposed rules because some employers may require English language proficiency for safety reasons. The commenter further noted that employers might prefer to hire those who can communicate in English to avoid workers’ compensation claims from accidents due to an inability to understand safety instructions. 89 See 20 CFR 404.1564(b) and 416.964(b). 90 See ORES English Proficiency Analysis Table 2. 91 The commenter cited Flynn M. A., Safety & the Diverse Workforce: Lessons from NIOSH’s Work With Latino Immigrants. Professional Safety (2002), p. 52. VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:34 Feb 24, 2020 Jkt 250001 Response: While we acknowledge the importance of safety in the workplace, it is outside the scope of our program to assess safety concerns associated with jobs a worker may be able to perform. As discussed above, in determining whether a claimant can adjust to other work, we do not consider the hiring practices of employers or whether the individual is likely be hired to do particular work, among other things.92 As we stated above, the Act requires us only to determine whether a claimant can perform any substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy. Comment: Some commenters said we should wait to adopt the proposed rules because we may propose additional revisions to other rules relating to disability determinations in the near future. The commenters said there will be more changes to the disability determination process because of a forthcoming new information system and vocational tool and they asked that we not incorporate revisions to current rules in a piecemeal or a premature manner. Response: The possibility that we may propose other revisions in the future is not a reason to delay revisions that are currently warranted (based on the reasons we have articulated in the NPRM and here). Comment: One commenter opined that this final rule would undermine the current occupational base that has served as the basis for the grid rules. As an example, the commenter noted that SSA has taken administrative notice of approximately 1,600 sedentary and light occupations in the national economy at the unskilled level. Based on this fact, the commenter asserted that the grid rules assume that a person with either light or sedentary work capacity, but who would be classified as ‘‘unable to communicate in English,’’ would not actually be able to perform the 1,600 unskilled light and sedentary occupations. The commenter stated that, accordingly, we would now need to reassess all of our work categories, and document evidence that a significant number of jobs are actually available for individuals who cannot communicate in English. Response: We disagree with the commenter’s conclusions, as the commenter’s foundational statements reflect incorrect assumptions. While the current grid rules do reflect the ‘‘inability to communicate in English’’ as a factor to consider, they are not, in fact, based on the assumption that full English proficiency is required to 92 See PO 00000 20 CFR 404.1566(c) and 416.966(c). Frm 00046 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 engage in all of the 1,600 sedentary and light occupations in the national economy at the unskilled level. The existing occupational base does not distinguish between jobs that require or do not require English proficiency. Rather, the occupational base reflects the existence of unskilled sedentary, light, medium, and heavy jobs that exist in the national economy. Comment: One commenter asserted that we withdrew a 2005 NPRM that proposed to revise the vocational factor of age 93 due to insufficient evidentiary support. The commenter drew a parallel between that NPRM and this rule, recommending that we withdraw this rule because, in the commenter’s stated opinion, we had failed to provide conclusive supporting research for this rule and the 2005 NPRM. Response: We disagree with this comment, because our decision not to finalize the 2005 NPRM that proposed revising the rules on the vocational factor of age was not due to a lack of adequate justification. As well, the commenter did not provide any evidence demonstrating that we had failed to provide sufficient supporting research for the 2005 NPRM. For this final rule, as explained previously, we presented sufficient supporting evidence to justify our changes, both in the NPRM and again here. Comment: A few commenters asserted that we incorrectly claimed that the education level of non-English speakers in the workforce has increased over time. Response: We did not claim that the education level of individuals who are unable to communicate in English in the workforce has increased over time. We clarify that in the NPRM, we noted that out of all claimants who reported an inability to read, write, or speak English in FY 2016, 49% (58,175) of title II claimants and 39% (49,943) of title XVI claimants completed a high school education or more.94 We cited this data to show that many people who reported an inability to read, write, or speak English do have a high school education or more. We do not suggest that this data shows that educational attainment increased over the years for individuals who are unable to communicate in English. How We Will Implement This Final Rule We will begin to apply this final rule to new applications, pending claims, 93 Age as a Factor in Evaluating Disability 70 FR 67101 (Nov. 4, 2005), withdrawn on May 8, 2009 at 74 FR 21563. 94 See 84 FR 1006, 1008. E:\FR\FM\25FER1.SGM 25FER1 Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 37 / Tuesday, February 25, 2020 / Rules and Regulations and CDRs, as appropriate, as of the effective date of this final rule.95 Regulatory Procedures Executive Order 12866, as Supplemented by Executive Order 13563 We consulted with OMB and determined that this final rule meets the criteria for an economically significant regulatory action under Executive Order 12866, as supplemented by Executive Order 13563. Therefore, OMB reviewed the rule. Details about the economic impacts of our rule follow. Anticipated Reduction in Transfer Payments Made by Our Programs Our Office of the Chief Actuary estimates, based on the best available data, that this final rule will result in a reduction of about 6,000 OASDI beneficiary awards per year and 3,800 SSI recipient awards per year, on average, for the period FY 2020–29, with a corresponding reduction of $4.5 billion in OASDI benefit payments and $0.8 billion in Federal SSI payments for the total period of FY 2020–29. Anticipated Administrative Costs to the Social Security Administration The Office of Budget, Finance, and Management estimates administrative costs of $90 million (840 work years) 96 for the 10-year period from FY 2020 through FY 2029. Although we included administrative cost estimates for the disability determination services (DDS) in our NPRM, we are now using a revised cost estimate methodology that does not allow us to calculate the total administrative costs for SSA and DDS separately. Administrative costs include considerations such as system enhancements, potential appeals, and additional time needed to process initial disability claims and CDRs. As mentioned above, the rule will result in a $90 million administrative cost to the government for the 10-year period from FY 2020 through FY 2029. However, we believe the qualitative benefits of ensuring the disability determination criteria we use are up-todate and reflective of the current economy (specifically, for this rule, the criteria we use to determine an individual’s education level) justifies this one-time cost. This final rule will also help us to fulfill our statutory obligation to be the best possible stewards of the Social Security programs. We also determined that this final rule meets the plain language requirement of Executive Order 12866. regulation or affect the States’ abilities to discharge traditional State governmental functions. Congressional Review Act Pursuant to the Congressional Review Act (5 U.S.C. 801 et seq.), OMB designated this rule as a major rule, as defined by 5 U.S.C. 804(2). Paperwork Reduction Act Description of public reporting requirement 0960–0072, SSA–454 ........... Continuing Disability Review Report. Disability Report—Adult ........ Function Report—Adult ......... Function Report—Adult Third Party. Total ............................... Executive Order 13771 Based upon the criteria established in Executive Order 13771, we have identified the anticipated administrative costs as follows: The final rule is anticipated to result in administrative costs of $90 million and 840 work years for the period of FY 2020 through FY 2029. See the E.O. 12866 section above for further details on these costs. This rule is designated a 13771 ‘‘regulatory’’ action. Regulatory Flexibility Act We certify that this final rule will not have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities because it affects individuals only. Therefore, the Regulatory Flexibility Act, as amended, does not require us to prepare a regulatory flexibility analysis. This final rule contains public reporting requirements in the regulation sections listed below, or will require changes in the forms listed below, which we did not previously clear through an existing Information Collection Request. Below is a chart showing current burden estimates (time and associated opportunity costs) for all ICRs due to the implementation of the regulation. None of the burdens associated with these ICRs will change as a result of this final rule. Executive Order 13132 (Federalism) We analyzed this final rule in accordance with the principles and criteria established by Executive Order 13132, and determined that it will not have sufficient Federalism implications to warrant the preparation of a Federalism assessment. We also determined that the final rule will not preempt any State law or State OMB No. form No. regulation section 0960–0579, SSA–3368 ......... 0960–0681, SSA–3373 ......... 0960–0635, SSA–3380, 20 CFR 404.1564, 20 CFR 416.964. 0960–0144, SSA–3441 ......... 10601 Number of respondents (annually) Average burden per response (minutes) Frequency of response Estimated annual burden (hours) Average theoretical hourly cost amount (dollars) * Total annual opportunity cost (dollars) ** 541,000 1 60 541,000 * $10.22 ** $5,529,020 2,258,510 1,734,635 709,700 1 1 1 90 61 61 3,387,766 1,763,546 721,528 * 10.22 * 10.22 * 22.50 ** 34,622,968 ** 18,023,440 ** 16,234,380 Disability Report—Appeal ..... 760,620 1 *** 41 520,346 * 10.22 ** 5,317,936 ................................................ 6,004,465 ........................ ........................ 6,934,186 ........................ ** 79,727,744 jbell on DSKJLSW7X2PROD with RULES * We based these figures on average DI payments, as reported in SSA’s disability insurance payment data, and by average U.S. citizen’s hourly salary, as reported by Bureau of Labor Statistics data. ** This figure does not represent actual costs that we are imposing on recipients of Social Security payments to complete this application; rather, these are theoretical opportunity costs for the additional time respondents will spend to complete the application. There is no actual charge to respondents to complete the application. *** This burden per response figure is not exact, as we have multiple collection modalities under this OMB Number with different response time estimates, and input the closest minute estimate to complete the chart. In the Supporting documents, we explain in further detail the different modalities and their actual numbers. We are submitting an Information Collection Request for clearance to OMB. We are soliciting comments on the burden estimate; the need for the information; its practical utility; ways to enhance its quality, utility, and clarity; 95 We will use the final rule beginning on its effective date. We will apply the final rule to new applications filed on or after the effective date, and to claims that are pending on and after the effective date. This means that we will use the final rule on and after its effective date in any case in which we make a determination or decision, including CDRs, as appropriate. See 20 CFR 404.902 and 416.1402. 96 We calculate one work year as 2,080 hours of labor, which represents the amount of hours one SSA employee works per year based on a standard 40-hour work week. VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:25 Feb 24, 2020 Jkt 250001 PO 00000 Frm 00047 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 E:\FR\FM\25FER1.SGM 25FER1 10602 Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 37 / Tuesday, February 25, 2020 / Rules and Regulations and ways to minimize the burden on respondents, including the use of automated techniques or other forms of information technology. If you would like to submit comments, please send them to the following locations: Office of Management and Budget, Attn: Desk Officer for SSA, Fax Number: 202–395–6974, Email address: OIRA_Submission@omb.eop.gov. Social Security Administration, OLCA, Attn: Reports Clearance Director, 3100 West High Rise, 6401 Security Blvd., Baltimore, MD 21235, Fax: 410–966– 2830, Email address: OR.Reports.Clearance@ssa.gov. You can submit comments until March 26, 2020, which is 30 days after the publication of this notice. To receive a copy of the OMB clearance package, contact the SSA Reports Clearance Officer using any of the above contact methods. We prefer to receive comments by email or fax. (Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance Program Nos. 96.001, Social Security— Disability Insurance; 96.002, Social Security—Retirement Insurance; 96.004, Social Security—Survivors Insurance; 96.006, Supplemental Security Income.) Dated: January 30, 2020. Andrew Saul, Commissioner of Social Security. For the reasons stated in the preamble, we are amending 20 CFR part 404, subpart P, and part 416, subpart I, as set forth below: PART 404—FEDERAL OLD–AGE, SURVIVORS AND DISABILITY INSURANCE (1950—) Subpart P—Determining Disability and Blindness 1. The authority citation for subpart P of part 404 continues to read as follows: ■ Authority: Secs. 202, 205(a)–(b) and (d)– (h), 216(i), 221(a) and (h)–(j), 222(c), 223, 225, and 702(a)(5) of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 402, 405(a)–(b) and (d)–(h), 416(i), 421(a) and (h)–(j), 422(c), 423, 425, and 902(a)(5)); sec. 211(b), Pub. L. 104–193, 110 Stat. 2105, 2189; sec. 202, Pub. L. 108–203, 118 Stat. 509 (42 U.S.C. 902 note). 2. Amend § 404.1564 by: a. Removing the sixth sentence of paragraph (b) introductory text and paragraph (b)(5); ■ b. Redesignating paragraph (b)(6) as paragraph (c); and ■ c. Revising the first sentence of newly redesignated paragraph (c). The revision reads as follows: ■ ■ List of Subjects 20 CFR Part 404 Administrative practice and procedure, Blind, Disability benefits, Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance, Reporting and record keeping requirements, Social Security. 20 CFR Part 416 Administrative practice and procedure, Reporting and recordkeeping requirements, Supplemental Security Income (SSI). § 404.1564 factor. 3. Amend appendix 2 to subpart P of part 404 by: ■ a. In section 201.00: ■ i. Revising paragraph (h)(1)(iv) and the second sentence of paragraph (h)(2); ■ ii. In paragraph (h)(4)(i), revising the first sentence, adding a sentence after the first sentence, and revising the last sentence; and ■ iii. In Table No. 1, revise rules 201.17, 201.18, 201.23, and 201.24; ■ b. In section 202.00: ■ i. Revising paragraphs (d) and (g); and ■ ii. In Table No. 2, revising rules 202.09, 202.10, 202.16, and 202.17; and ■ c. In section 203.00, Table No. 3, revising rule 203.01. The revisions and addition read as follows: ■ Your education as a vocational * * * * * (c) Information about your education. We will ask you how long you attended school, and whether you are able to understand, read, and write, and do at least simple arithmetic calculations.* * * Appendix 2 to Subpart P of Part 404— Medical-Vocational Guidelines * * * * * 201.00 * * * (h)(1) * * * (iv) Are illiterate. (2) * * * It is usually not a significant factor in limiting such individual’s ability to make an adjustment to other work, including an adjustment to unskilled sedentary work, even when the individuals are illiterate. * * * * * (4) * * * (i) While illiteracy may significantly limit an individual’s vocational scope, the primary work functions in most unskilled occupations involve working with things (rather than with data or people). In these work functions, education has the least significance. * * * Thus, the functional capacity for a full range of sedentary work represents sufficient numbers of jobs to indicate substantial vocational scope for those individuals age 18–44, even if they are illiterate. * * * * * TABLE NO. 1—RESIDUAL FUNCTIONAL CAPACITY: MAXIMUM SUSTAINED WORK CAPABILITY LIMITED TO SEDENTARY WORK AS A RESULT OF SEVERE MEDICALLY DETERMINABLE IMPAIRMENT(S) Rule Age Education * 201.17 ............................................ 201.18 ............................................ * * Younger individual age 45–49 ..... ......do ........................................... * * Illiterate ......................................... Limited or Marginal, but not Illiterate. * * Unskilled or none ......................... Disabled. ......do ........................................... Not disabled. * 201.23 ............................................ 201.24 ............................................ * * Younger individual age 18–44 ..... ......do ........................................... * * Illiterate ......................................... Limited or Marginal, but not Illiterate. * * Unskilled or none ......................... ......do ........................................... * jbell on DSKJLSW7X2PROD with RULES * 4 See 201.00(h). * * * 202.00 * * * (d) A finding of disabled is warranted where the same factors in paragraph (c) of this section regarding education and previous work experience are present, but where age, though not advanced, is a factor which VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:49 Feb 24, 2020 * * Jkt 250001 Previous work experience * * * significantly limits vocational adaptability (i.e., closely approaching advanced age, 50– 54) and an individual’s vocational scope is further significantly limited by illiteracy. * PO 00000 * * Frm 00048 * Fmt 4700 * Sfmt 4700 * * Decision 4 4 Do. Do. * * (g) While illiteracy may significantly limit an individual’s vocational scope, the primary work functions in most unskilled occupations relate to working with things (rather than data or people). In these work functions, education has the least E:\FR\FM\25FER1.SGM 25FER1 10603 Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 37 / Tuesday, February 25, 2020 / Rules and Regulations capability for light work, which includes the ability to do sedentary work, represents the capability for substantial numbers of such jobs. This, in turn, represents substantial significance. Similarly, the lack of relevant work experience would have little significance since the bulk of unskilled jobs require no qualifying work experience. The vocational scope for younger individuals (age 18–49), even if they are illiterate. TABLE NO. 2—RESIDUAL FUNCTIONAL CAPACITY: MAXIMUM SUSTAINED WORK CAPABILITY LIMITED TO LIGHT WORK AS A RESULT OF SEVERE MEDICALLY DETERMINABLE IMPAIRMENT(S) Rule Age Education * 202.09 ............................................ * * Illiterate ......................................... * * Unskilled or none ......................... Disabled. 202.10 ............................................ * * Closely approaching advanced age. ......do ........................................... Limited or Marginal, but not Illiterate. ......do ........................................... * 202.16 ............................................ 202.17 ............................................ * * Younger individual ........................ ......do ........................................... * * Illiterate ......................................... Limited or Marginal, but not Illiterate. * * Unskilled or none ......................... ......do ........................................... * * * * * * * Previous work experience * * * Decision Not disabled. Do. Do. * 203.00 * * * * TABLE NO. 3—RESIDUAL FUNCTIONAL CAPACITY: MAXIMUM SUSTAINED WORK CAPABILITY LIMITED TO MEDIUM WORK AS A RESULT OF SEVERE MEDICALLY DETERMINABLE IMPAIRMENT(S) Rule Age 203.01 ............................................ * * * * Closely age. approaching * * 4. The authority citation for subpart I of part 416 continues to read as follows: Authority: Secs. 221(m), 702(a)(5), 1611, 1614, 1619, 1631(a), (c), (d)(1), and (p), and 1633 of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 421(m), 902(a)(5), 1382, 1382c, 1382h, 1383(a), (c), (d)(1), and (p), and 1383b); secs. 4(c) and 5, 6(c)–(e), 14(a), and 15, Pub. L. 98– 460, 98 Stat. 1794, 1801, 1802, and 1808 (42 U.S.C. 421 note, 423 note, and 1382h note). 5. Amend § 416.964 by: a. Removing the sixth sentence of paragraph (b) introductory text and paragraph (b)(5); ■ b. Redesignating paragraph (b)(6) as paragraph (c); and ■ c. Revising the first sentence of newly redesignated paragraph (c). The revision reads as follows: jbell on DSKJLSW7X2PROD with RULES ■ ■ Your education as a vocational * * * * (c) Information about your education. We will ask you how long you attended school, and whether you are able to understand, read, and write, and do at Jkt 250001 * * BILLING CODE 4191–02–P ■ 18:34 Feb 24, 2020 Unskilled or none ......................... [FR Doc. 2020–03199 Filed 2–24–20; 8:45 am] Subpart I—Determining Disability and Blindness VerDate Sep<11>2014 Marginal or Illiterate ..................... least simple arithmetic calculations. * * * * * Previous work experience * PART 416—SUPPLEMENTAL SECURITY INCOME FOR THE AGED, BLIND, AND DISABLED § 416.964 factor. retirement Education * Decision Disabled. * Counsel, by email at jrubel@ copyright.gov or John R. Riley, Assistant General Counsel, by email at jril@ copyright.gov; either can be reached by telephone at 202–707–8350. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: LIBRARY OF CONGRESS 1. Background Copyright Office Under sections 411 and 508 of the Copyright Act,1 certain parties are required to notify the Register of Copyrights about copyright litigation. Sections 411(a) and 411(b) each define circumstances in which the Register of Copyrights must be notified of civil copyright lawsuits, to provide opportunity for he or she to participate in the case. Section 411(a) provides that copyright claimants who were denied registration by the Copyright Office for a specific work must inform the Register when they initiate a lawsuit alleging infringement of that work so that the Register may elect to become a party to the civil action with respect to the issue of registrability of the copyright for the work. Section 411(b) provides that if a party in a copyright infringement lawsuit alleges that a certificate of registration issued by the Copyright Office contains inaccurate information that was knowingly included in the application, then the court shall ask the 37 CFR Parts 201 and 205 [Docket No. 2020–1] Email Rule for Statutory Litigation Notices U.S. Copyright Office, Library of Congress. ACTION: Final rule. AGENCY: The U.S. Copyright Office is issuing a final rule amending its procedures for submitting notices to the Office pursuant to sections 411 and 508 of the Copyright Act. Previously, these notices were submitted by mail to two different addresses, which risked delays and caused unnecessary burdens for both submitters and the Office. The new rule will alleviate these issues by requiring these notices to be submitted by email. DATES: Effective May 26, 2020. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Jordana Rubel, Assistant General SUMMARY: PO 00000 Frm 00049 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 1 17 E:\FR\FM\25FER1.SGM U.S.C. 411, 508. 25FER1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 85, Number 37 (Tuesday, February 25, 2020)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Pages 10586-10603]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2020-03199]


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SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION

20 CFR Parts 404 and 416

[Docket No. SSA-2017-0046]
RIN 0960-AH86


Removing Inability To Communicate in English as an Education 
Category

AGENCY: Social Security Administration.

ACTION: Final rules.

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SUMMARY: We are finalizing our proposed regulations to eliminate the 
education category ``inability to communicate in English'' when we 
evaluate disability claims for adults under titles II and XVI of the 
Social Security Act (the Act). This education category is no longer a 
useful indicator of an individual's educational attainment or of the 
vocational impact of an individual's education because of changes in 
the national workforce since we adopted the current rule more than 40 
years ago. We expect that these revisions will help us better assess 
the vocational impact of education in the disability determination 
process.

DATES: The final rule is effective on April 27, 2020.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Dan O'Brien, Office of Disability 
Policy, Social Security Administration, 6401 Security Boulevard, 
Baltimore, Maryland 21235-6401, (410) 597-1632. For information on 
eligibility or filing for benefits, call our national toll-free number, 
1-800-772-1213, or TTY 1-800-325-0778, or visit our internet site, 
Social Security Online, at http://www.socialsecurity.gov.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

Background

    We are finalizing the proposed rules on removing the education 
category ``inability to communicate in English,'' which we published in 
a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) on February 1, 2019 (84 FR 
1006). We are revising our rules to remove the education category 
``inability to communicate in English'' based on research and data 
related to English language proficiency, work, and education; expansion 
of the international reach of our disability programs; audit findings 
by our Office of the Inspector General (OIG); \1\ and public comments 
we received on the NPRM. We expect these changes will

[[Page 10587]]

help us better assess the vocational impact of education in the 
disability determination process.
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    \1\ See Office of Inspector General, Social Security 
Administration, Audit Report, Qualifying for Disability Benefits in 
Puerto Rico Based on an Inability to Speak English (April 2015) (OIG 
report), at https://oig.ssa.gov/sites/default/files/audit/full/pdf/A-12-13-13062_0.pdf.
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    In the preamble to the NPRM, we explained that we use a five-step 
sequential evaluation process to determine whether an adult is disabled 
under the Act.\2\ When this final rule becomes effective, we will no 
longer consider whether an individual is able to communicate in English 
at the fifth and final step of the sequential evaluation process (step 
5). The NPRM also discussed in detail further conforming edits, and the 
bases for our revisions. Because we are adopting these revisions as we 
proposed them, we are not repeating that information here. Interested 
readers may refer to the preamble to the NPRM, available at http://www.regulations.gov by searching for docket number SSA-2017-0046.
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    \2\ The sequential evaluation of disability for adults is 
composed of five steps. We determine whether an individual: Is doing 
substantial gainful activity (step 1); has one or more severe 
medically determinable impairments (step 2); has an impairment that 
meets or medically equals the requirements of the Listing of 
Impairments in 20 CFR part 404, subpart P, appendix 1 (step 3); can 
do his or her past relevant work (step 4); and can do any other 
work, given his or her residual functional capacity, age, education, 
and work experience (step 5). If at any step, we can make a finding 
of ``disabled'' or ``not disabled,'' we stop the evaluation, make 
our determination or decision, and do not proceed to the next step. 
See 20 CFR 404.1520(a)(4) and 416.920(a)(4).
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    In the preamble, we refer to the regulations in effect on the date 
of publication as the ``current'' rule. We refer to the regulations 
that will be in effect on April 27, 2020 as the ``final'' rule.

Public Comments

    We received 216 comments on the NPRM, 212 of which were related to 
the regulation and are thus available for public viewing at http://www.regulations.gov.\3\ These comments were from:
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    \3\ We excluded one comment from one of our employees who 
improperly submitted the comment in the capacity as an employee. We 
excluded three other comments because they were out of scope or 
nonresponsive to the proposal.
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     Individual citizens and claimant representatives;
     Members of Congress;
     National groups representing claimant representatives, 
such as the National Organization of Social Security Claimants' 
Representatives and the National Association of Disability 
Representatives; and
     Advocacy groups, such as the Consortium for Citizens with 
Disabilities and Justice in Aging.
    We carefully considered these comments; below, we discuss and 
respond to the significant issues raised by the commenters that were 
within the scope of the NPRM. We summarized, condensed, and paraphrased 
the comments due to their length. We organized the comments and our 
responses by category for ease of review.

Eliminating the English Language Distinction

    Comment: Several commenters supported the proposal to eliminate the 
``inability to communicate in English'' as an education category. One 
commenter expressed that the current rule gives non-English speakers an 
advantage over English speakers. Other commenters asserted that the 
current rule treats persons who are non-English speaking as though they 
are illiterate; that it creates a negative perception of non-English 
speakers; and that it suggests only English-speaking persons are 
educated enough to hold a job.
    Response: We concur with the commenters' support for the proposal 
to eliminate the language distinction. The goal of this final rule is 
to help ensure our program rules remain current, and we expect that 
this final rule will allow us to decide disability claims consistent 
with the changes that have occurred in the national workforce in the 
last four decades.
    Comment: One commenter supported our proposal, stating there is no 
strict correlation between proficiency in English and the ability to 
make valuable contributions to the U.S. economy. The commenter opined 
that our current rules might determine a highly-skilled non-English 
speaker to be disabled, diverting disability funds away from the people 
who most need them.
    Response: We acknowledge the commenter's support for our rule. We, 
however, disagree that our current rules have diverted disability funds 
away from those who need them the most. Whether an individual is able 
to communicate in English is one of many factors we consider when 
determining disability. For example, if an individual has the residual 
functional capacity to perform his or her past relevant work, we find 
the person not disabled, regardless of the person's ability to 
communicate in English.

Changes in the National Workforce

    Comment: Several commenters noted that the United States (U.S.) is 
now a diverse country with work opportunities for non-English speakers. 
One commenter stated that an ability to speak, read, or write in 
English is no longer imperative for attaining a job in the U.S. Other 
commenters similarly opined that the U.S. today is a diverse country 
with employment opportunities in many industries for non-English-
speakers, and that a lack of English language proficiency is not the 
obstacle that it used to be. A commenter also expressed that the 
``inability to communicate in English'' education category is 
unnecessary, and that changing the current rule is ``overdue.''
    Response: We acknowledge the commenters' support for our rule. Our 
current rules, published in 1978,\4\ are premised on the assumption 
that ``it may be difficult for someone who does not speak and 
understand English to do a job, regardless of the amount of education 
the person may have in another language.'' \5\ As we discussed in the 
NPRM, and as the commenters said, there have been changes in the 
national workforce since we added the ``inability to communicate in 
English'' category to our rules on evaluating education. These changes 
and other data and research have led us to conclude that this education 
category is no longer a useful indicator of an individual's educational 
attainment or of the vocational impact of an individual's education for 
the purposes of our programs. This final rule reflects those changes in 
the national workforce, acknowledge the vocational advantage that 
formal education may provide in any language, and account for expansion 
of the international reach of our disability programs.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \4\ 43 FR 55349, 55364-65 (1978). Our original rules on the 
inability to communicate in English stated that this factor ``may be 
considered a vocational handicap because it often narrows an 
individual's vocational scope.'' 20 CFR 404.1507(f) (1979). In 1980, 
we reorganized and rewrote a number of rules in simpler, briefer 
language, including our rule on consideration of education as a 
vocational factor. 45 FR 55566, 55591 (1980). Our rules on the 
inability to communicate in English have remained unchanged since 
that 1980 revision.
    \5\ See 20 CFR 404.1564(b)(5) and 416.964(b)(5).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Comment: One commenter, citing to the Office of Research, 
Evaluation, and Statistics (ORES) Analysis of 1980 Census and 2016 
American Community Survey: English Proficiency,\6\ contended that the 
data we presented does not support the proposal, because job 
opportunities for individuals with limited English proficiency (LEP) 
have not grown at the same rate as the LEP population. The commenter 
asserted

[[Page 10588]]

that the percentage of working-age LEP individuals with a high school 
degree in the workforce only increased by 3.7% between 1980 to 2016, 
while the working-age LEP population increased by 5.4% during the same 
period.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \6\ See SSA Office of Research, Evaluation, and Statistics 
(ORES) Analysis of 1980 Census and 2016 American Community Survey: 
English Proficiency (ORES English Proficiency Analysis 2016), Table 
1: Estimated working-age (25-64) population, by English proficiency 
and educational attainment, 1980 and 2016 (ORES English Proficiency 
Analysis 2016 Table 1), and Table 2: Estimated labor force 
participation of working-age (25-64) population, by English 
proficiency and educational attainment, 1980 and 2016 (ORES English 
Proficiency Analysis 2016 Table 2), available at regulations.gov as 
a supporting and related material for docket SSA-2017-0046.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Response: We disagree because the statistics presented by the 
commenter characterizing our data are incorrect. The increase in the 
working age (25-64) LEP \7\ population between 1980 and 2016 was not 
5.4%.\8\ The working age LEP population more than tripled, increasing 
from approximately 5.4 million to 17.8 million.\9\ Also, the increase 
in the labor force participation rate (LFPR) \10\ of the working age 
LEP population with high school education was not 3.7%. Rather, their 
LFPR increased by 3.7 percentage points, from 70% to 73.7%.\11\ See 
Tables 1-2 below for a summary of relevant data.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \7\ As explained in the NPRM, the U.S. Census Bureau defines LEP 
as those who speak English ``well,'' ``not well,'' or ``not at 
all.'' See U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey (ACS), What 
State and Local Governments Need to Know, p. 12, n. 8, February 
2009, https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2009/acs/ACSstateLocal.pdf.
    \8\ See ORES English Proficiency Analysis 2016 Table 1.
    \9\ Id.
    \10\ Labor force participation rate refers to the percent of the 
civilian population that is working or actively looking for work.
    \11\ See ORES English Proficiency Analysis 2016 Table 2.

             Table 1--Working Age LEP Population in the U.S.
------------------------------------------------------------------------
              1980                       2016               Change
------------------------------------------------------------------------
5.1% (5.4 million)..............  10.5% (17.8         LEP population
                                   million).           increased by 5.4
                                                       percentage
                                                       points.
------------------------------------------------------------------------


 Table 2--Labor Force Participation by LEP Individuals With High School
                                 Diploma
------------------------------------------------------------------------
              1980                       2016               Change
------------------------------------------------------------------------
70% (819,000)...................  73.7% (4.4          Labor force
                                   million).           participation
                                                       increased by 3.7
                                                       percentage
                                                       points.
------------------------------------------------------------------------

    More importantly, between 1980 and 2016, the working age LEP 
population more than doubled from 5.1% to 10.5% as a percentage of the 
US population (approximately 5.4 million to 17.8 million).\12\ During 
the same period, the LFPR of the working age LEP population (with no 
restriction on education) increased from 66.7% to 72.2% (approximately 
3.6 million to 12.9 million).\13\ This means that in 2016, 1 out of 10 
working age individuals in the country was a person with LEP, and that 
72% of the working age LEP population were in the labor force. The 
data, while not an exact match for all the parameters we examine, 
indicates that individuals with LEP were more likely to be part of the 
labor force in 2016 than in 1980.\14\ See Table 3 below for a summary 
of relevant data.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \12\ See ORES English Proficiency Analysis 2016 Table 1.
    \13\ Between 1980 and 2016, the LFPR of the individuals who 
spoke only English increased from 73.4% to 77.5% (approximately 69.8 
million to 101.1 million). See ORES English Proficiency Analysis 
2016 Table 2.
    \14\ When we published the NPRM, we used 2016 data about the 
LFPR and the working age population by English proficiency and 
educational attainment, because this was the most recent data 
available. Because many commenters referred to the 2016 data that we 
discussed in the NPRM, some of our responses in this final rule 
refer to this 2016 data. However, we now have parallel data 
available for 2017. The 2017 data closely tracks the data from 2016 
that we cited in the NPRM. For example, in 2017 the working age LEP 
population's LFPR was 72.6%, compared to 72.2% in 2016. For the 
complete 2017 data, see the Office of Research, Evaluation, and 
Statistics (ORES) Analysis of 1980 Census and 2017 American 
Community Survey: English Proficiency and Labor Force Participation 
(ORES Labor Force Analysis 2017), available at regulations.gov as 
supporting and related material for docket SSA-2017-0046.

                                                     Table 3
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
            Working age LEP population in the U.S.               Labor force participation of LEP population in
---------------------------------------------------------------                     the U.S.
                                                               -------------------------------------------------
                 1980                            2016                     1980                     2016
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
5.1% (5.4 million)...................  10.5% (17.8 million)...  66.7% (3.6 million)....  72.2% (12.9 million).
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    We also looked at employment rate \15\ as another indicator of how 
the national workforce has changed. Because employment rate focuses 
exclusively on the employed population, it demonstrates that people 
with LEP are working, and that the percentage of those who are working 
has increased since 1980. In 2017, the employment rates for the working 
age LEP population (95.2%) and the working age population that speak 
only English (95.8%) were about the same.\16\ The employment rate for 
people who speak only English changed slightly from 1980 to 2017 (95.2% 
to 95.8%).\17\ The employment rate for individuals with LEP increased 
by a slightly greater percentage over that same period (92.4% to 
95.2%).\18\ The employment rate for those who speak no English, 
however, increased from 88.1% to 94.3% during the same period.\19\ 
Moreover, the number of individuals who speak no English increased 
substantially, and at a greater rate than all other group, except the 
LEP group that speaks English not well.\20\ The group that speaks no 
English and the group that speaks English not well nearly quadrupled 
between 1980 and 2017.\21\ In sum, contrary to the commenter's 
assertions, the data we presented supports our final rule removing 
inability to communicate in English as an education category because, 
as explained above, the labor force participation and employment rates 
for individuals with LEP have increased. See Tables 4-5, below, for a 
summary of relevant data.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \15\ In our analysis, employment rate equals the percent of 
civilian individuals ages 25-64 who report that they are working.
    \16\ For the population that spoke only English, approximately 
97.6 million individuals out of 101.9 million in the labor force 
were employed. For the LEP population, approximately 12.2 million 
individuals out of 12.8 million in the labor force were employed. 
See the Office of Research, Evaluation, and Statistics (ORES) 
Analysis of 1980 Census and 2017 American Community Survey: English 
Proficiency, Population Size, and Employment (ORES English 
Proficiency, Population, and Employment Analysis 2017) Table 2 and 
ORES Labor Force Analysis 2017, available at regulations.gov as a 
supporting and related material for docket SSA-2017-0046.
    \17\ ORES English Proficiency, Population, and Employment 
Analysis 2017 Table 2.
    \18\ Id.
    \19\ Id.
    \20\ See the Office of Research, Evaluation, and Statistics 
(ORES) Analysis of 1980 Census and 2017 American Community Survey: 
English Proficiency, Population Size, and Employment (ORES English 
Proficiency, Population, and Employment Analysis 2017) Table 1, 
available at regulations.gov as a supporting and related material 
for docket SSA-2017-0046.
    \21\ Id. The population of LEP individuals who speak no English 
increased from approximately 682,000 to 2.6 million.

[[Page 10589]]



                                                     Table 4
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                                      Rate of
                                                                                                    population
      Working age population in the U.S.                      1980                2017 (million)      growth
                                                                                                     (percent)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Total.........................................  107.2 million...................           170.5           59.05
Speaks only English...........................  95.2 million....................           130.9           37.50
Speaks English very well......................  6.6 million.....................              22          233.33
LEP...........................................  5.4 million.....................            17.6          225.93
Speaks English well...........................  3.1 million.....................             8.4          170.97
Speaks English not well.......................  1.7 million.....................             6.6          288.24
Speaks no English.............................  682,000.........................             2.6          281.23
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


           Table 5--Employment Rate for Working Age Population
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                     1980        2017
                                                   (percent)   (percent)
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Population with LEP.............................        92.4        95.2
Population that speaks no English...............        88.1        94.3
Population that speaks only English.............        95.2        95.8
------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Comment: Some commenters asserted that the fact that work 
opportunities for the population with LEP expanded is irrelevant, 
because the ``inability to communicate in English'' education category 
only includes the LEP population that speaks no English. Commenters 
pointed out that the ``LEP'' rubric includes individuals who speak 
English ``well,'' ``not well,'' and ``not at all,'' so the LEP 
population is too broad to represent those individuals who are ``unable 
to communicate in English.'' These commenters contended that the 
appropriate proxy for individuals with an ``inability to communicate in 
English'' would be only those individuals with LEP who speak no 
English. Further, some of these commenters asserted that the labor 
force participation for individuals who speak no English has, in their 
opinions, not improved much.
    Response: We disagree. The ``inability to communicate in English'' 
education category can apply to a range of individuals with varying 
levels of English communication ability. This is because our agency 
uses the ``inability to communicate in English'' category to include 
all individuals who are unable to do one or more of the following in 
English: (1) Read a simple message; (2) write a simple message; or (3) 
speak or understand a simple message.\22\ In other words, we currently 
find as ``unable to communicate in English'' individuals who cannot 
speak English but who have some, or even higher, capacity to read and 
understand English. Similarly, we find as ``unable to communicate in 
English'' individuals who cannot read or write English, but who can 
speak some English. Therefore, while not an exact match, the LEP 
population is an appropriate proxy for the population we deem ``unable 
to communicate in English'' under our current rules.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \22\ See 20 CFR 404.1564 and 416.964. See also Program 
Operations Manual System (POMS) DI 25015.010C.1.b Education as a 
Vocational Factor, available at https://secure.ssa.gov/apps10/poms.NSF/lnx/0425015010.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    In response to the commenters' assertion that the LFPR for this 
group has not increased, we note that the data we cited indicates that 
individuals who speak no English are participating in the labor force 
in increased numbers. Between 1980 and 2016, the LFPR for those who 
speak no English rose from 54.7% to 61.5% (approximately from 373,000 
to 1.7 million in absolute numbers).23 24 25 The proportion 
of the working age population who do not speak English to the total 
labor force nearly tripled, that is, from approximately 373,000 out of 
78.3 million to approximately 1.7 million out of 131 million over the 
same period.\26\
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \23\ See ORES English Proficiency Analysis 2016 Table 2.
    \24\ The LFPR for those who speak only English rose from 73.4% 
to 77.5% (approximately from 69.8 million to 101.1 million in 
absolute numbers). Id.
    \25\ The LFPR for those who speak no English was 61% 
(approximately 1.6 million in absolute numbers) in 2017. See ORES 
English Labor Force Analysis 2017.
    \26\ See ORES English Proficiency Analysis 2016 Table 2.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Moreover, the 2016 data shows that the LFPR of the individuals who 
spoke no English increased more than any other group at the High School 
Diploma, Some College, and College Graduate levels.\27\ At the Less 
than High School Diploma level, even though the increase in the LFPR of 
those individuals who spoke no English was not the highest among all 
groups, the LFPR of the no English group (60.5%) was still higher than 
that of only English group (48.9%).28 29 In 1980, the 
reverse was true.\30\
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \27\ Id.
    \28\ Id.
    \29\ In 2017, the data shows that the LFPR of those with less 
than a high school diploma and who spoke no English was 59.2%. The 
LFPR of those similarly situated individuals who spoke only English 
was 49.1%. See ORES English Proficiency, Population, and Employment 
Analysis 2017.
    \30\ In 1980, the LFPR of those with less than a high school 
diploma and who spoke no English was 54.5%. The LFPR of those with 
less than a high school diploma who spoke only English was 60.7%. 
See ORES English Proficiency Analysis 2016 Table 2.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Comment: Some commenters raised the concern that the work 
opportunities for individuals with LEP are not the same throughout the 
U.S. A few commenters noted that the region in which an individual with 
LEP lives and the number of people in that individual's region of 
residence who speak the same language as the individual could affect 
job prospects. One commenter stated that no one speaks anything other 
than English in his region, so he believed that an inability to 
communicate in English would be a significant barrier to working where 
he lives. Another commenter said that even though a substantial number 
of LEP persons live in his region, he doubted that employers would hire 
them, because a large number of English proficient workers are 
available in his region. Another commenter asserted that, for non-
English speaking individuals, the language the individuals speak might 
affect their work opportunities. This commenter opined that an 
individual with LEP who speaks Spanish might have better work prospects 
than an individual with LEP who speaks another language.
    Response: Our disability programs are national in scope. According 
to the Act, it does not matter whether work ``exists in the immediate 
area in which [a claimant] lives'' as long as sufficient work exists in 
the ``national economy.'' \31\ The Act defines the ``national economy'' 
as ``the region

[[Page 10590]]

where [a claimant] lives'' or ``several regions of the country.'' \32\ 
The existence of jobs for individuals with LEP may vary depending on 
the immediate area in which the individual resides. The Act, however, 
requires us to consider the existence of jobs in the overall national 
economy (defined as an entire region or several regions of the 
country).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \31\ See sections 223(d)(2)(A) and 1614(a)(3)(B) of the Act, 42 
U.S.C. 423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B).
    \32\ Id.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    As to the concern that an individual with LEP may not be hired 
because employers may prefer a person who is proficient in English, the 
Act prohibits us from considering ``whether a specific job vacancy 
exists for [a claimant], or whether he would be hired if he applied for 
work.'' \33\ Consistent with the Act, our regulations explain that when 
we determine whether a claimant can adjust to other work, we do not 
consider the hiring practices of employers.\34\ Again, we are required 
to consider only whether a claimant could engage in work that exists in 
significant numbers in the national economy, not how likely claimants 
are to be hired by certain employers.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \33\ See sections 223(d)(2)(A) and 1614(a)(3)(B) of the Act, 42 
U.S.C. 423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B).
    \34\ See 20 CFR 404.1566(c) and 416.966(c).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Comment: Some commenters expressed the view that an increase in the 
size of the population with LEP does not translate to greater work 
opportunities for those individuals with LEP. These commenters 
contended that increased linguistic diversity in the economy might 
actually make finding work more difficult for workers with LEP, because 
they would have a harder time finding other workers who speak the same 
language.
    Response: The available data does not support the assertions made 
in this comment. Both the LEP population as a percentage of the U.S. 
population and their LFPR increased considerably between 1980 and 2016. 
In fact, during this period, the LFPR of the LEP population increased 
more than that of the individuals who spoke only English. The LEP 
population's LFPR increased by 5.5 percentage points (from 66.7% to 
72.2%) while the LFPR of the population that spoke only English 
increased by 4.1 percentage points (from 73.4% to 77.5%).\35\ The 
increase is notable considering the change in the make-up of the U.S. 
population. In 1980, the LEP individuals made up only 5.1% (5.4 
million) of the population.\36\ In 2016, LEP individuals made up 10.5% 
(17.8 million) of the U.S. population.\37\ Further, the Brookings 
Institution's 2014 study (the Brookings analysis) that evaluated the 
LEP population in 89 metropolitan areas (home to 82% of nation's LEP 
population) in 43 States and the District of Columbia showed that a 
majority of working-age individuals with LEP are in the labor 
force.\38\ While the LFPR increase for the LEP population could 
theoretically be attributed to multiple factors, the data suggests that 
there are job opportunities for those with LEP.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \35\ See ORES English Proficiency Analysis 2016 Table 2.
    \36\ ORES English Proficiency Analysis 2016 Table 1.
    \37\ Id.
    \38\ Jill H. Wilson, Investing in English Skills: The Limited 
English Proficient Workforce in U.S. Metropolitan Areas, 
Metropolitan Policy Program, at Brookings Institution (September 
2014), p. 15, 20; and Appendix. Limited English Proficiency 
Population, Ages 16-64, 89 Metropolitan Areas, 2012, p. 32-37, 
available at https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Srvy_EnglishSkills_Sep22.pdf.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Comment: One commenter asserted that our reliance on the Brookings 
analysis was inappropriate because the study did not examine LEP 
individuals with disabilities, but rather focused on the general LEP 
population.
    Response: Under the Act, we find a person disabled if the person 
cannot do his or her past relevant work or any other work that exists 
in the national economy in significant numbers. This means that a 
person found disabled under our rules would not be working, absent 
special circumstances. Therefore, we examined data about the LFPR of 
individuals in the general LEP population, rather than focusing on the 
data about LEP individuals who are disabled. Examining statistics on 
persons with impairments who are in the labor force would not have been 
directly relevant to this rulemaking, because if such persons were able 
to engage in work in the national economy, their impairments would not 
have been severe enough to meet the Act's definition of ``disability'' 
in the first place.

Inability To Communicate in English as a Barrier to Work

    Comment: A few commenters cited Social Security Ruling (SSR) 85-
15,\39\ which says that we will find an individual disabled if his or 
her mental capacity is insufficient to meet the demands of unskilled 
work due to a mental impairment. These commenters equated the effects 
of ``inability to communicate in English'' with the effects of having a 
mental impairment that severely limits the potential work capacity. 
These commenters stated that our rules should treat similarly the 
effects of the ``inability to communicate in English'' and those of 
severely limiting mental impairments. One of these commenters also 
cited listing 2.09, which addresses ``loss of speech,'' \40\ and said 
that it is implausible that the ``inability to communicate in English'' 
would be completely vocationally irrelevant when we find an individual 
who is unable to speak disabled under listing 2.09.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \39\ SSR 85-15: Titles II and XVI: Capability to Do Other Work-
The Medical-Vocational Rules as a Framework for Evaluating Solely 
Nonexertional Impairments.
    \40\ 20 CFR part 404, subpart P, appendix I, Listing 2.09. As 
explained in footnote 2, we use the five-step sequential evaluation 
process to determine whether an individual is disabled. At the third 
step, if we determine that a claimant has an impairment that meets 
or medically equals the requirements of the Listing of Impairments 
in 20 CFR part 404, subpart P, appendix 1, we find the person 
disabled. See 20 CFR 404.1520(a)(4)(iii) and 416.920(a)(4)(iii).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Response: We disagree with these comments, because the loss of 
speech under listing 2.09 and an inability to communicate in English 
(or in any one particular language) are different and cannot be 
conflated. SSR 85-15 addresses primarily the loss of functional 
capacity that results from a medically determinable impairment(s) 
(MDI). Under the Act, an MDI ``results from anatomical, physiological, 
or psychological abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically 
acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.'' \41\ The 
``inability to communicate in English'' is not an MDI; rather, it is a 
subset of the Act's vocational factor of education. Our rules treat 
MDIs differently from vocational factors in determining disability. 
Specifically, we consider the effects of an MDI or a combination of 
MDIs to determine an individual's residual functional capacity 
(RFC).\42\ We do not include the effects of vocational factors--i.e., 
age, education, and work experience --when determining an RFC. Under 
this final rule, how we assess an RFC remains the same, but we will no 
longer consider an ``inability to communicate in English'' as a subset 
of the vocational factor of education for the reasons we explain here 
and in the NPRM. We note that persons who are unable to communicate due 
to an MDI would be evaluated under the criteria for that MDI; the 
inability to communicate generally (presumably in any language, not 
just English) would be considered in that context, and not as a 
``symptom'' in isolation.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \41\ Sections 223(d)(2)(C)(3),1614(a)(3)(D) of the Act, 42 
U.S.C. 423(d)(3),1382c(a)(3)(D).
    \42\ See 20 CFR 404.1545 and 416.945; and sections 
223(d)(2)(C)(3),1614(a)(3)(D) of the Act, 42 U.S.C. 
423(d)(3),1382c(a)(3)(D).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The comparison of the ``inability to communicate in English'' to 
``loss of speech'' under listing 2.09 can be

[[Page 10591]]

similarly distinguished. Listing 2.09 deals with individuals who due to 
a MDI have an ``inability to produce by any means speech that can be 
heard, understood, or sustained.'' \43\ We find individuals who satisfy 
the listing requirements disabled at step 3 of the sequential 
evaluation process, with no consideration of whether they are able to 
communicate in English or in another language.\44\ An inability to 
communicate in English was a category of education that we considered 
at step 5 \45\ and was not a functional limitation. Equating an 
``inability to speak'' to an ``inability to communicate in English'' 
due to a lack of English proficiency draws a false equivalency between 
two groups of individuals who are fundamentally dissimilar. Our program 
experience and common understanding make it clear that individuals who 
are unable to produce by any means of speech that can be heard, 
understood, or sustained because of a severe MDI are substantially more 
limited than those without such an impairment who merely lack facility 
with the English language.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \43\ See 20 CFR part 404, subpart P, appendix I, Listing 2.09.
    \44\ See footnote 40.
    \45\ At step 5, we consider a claimant's vocational factors, 
i.e., age, education, and work experience, together with the 
claimant's RFC to determine whether the claimant can do work in the 
national economy. See 20 CFR 404.1520(a)(4)(v) and 416.920(a)(4)(v).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Comment: One commenter opined that an individual's ability to 
communicate in English should remain a relevant vocational factor 
because every vocational expert \46\ would say that language 
proficiency affects job placement. The commenter reasoned that if that 
were not the case, the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) would 
not have included a language component in their job descriptions.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \46\ Vocational experts are vocational professionals who may 
provide impartial expert evidence at the administrative hearing 
level.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Response: The commenter asserted that because the DOT has a 
language component in their job descriptions, the ability to 
communicate in English must be a relevant vocational factor. We note 
that even under our current rules, the inability to communicate in 
English has no impact on disability determinations for claimants under 
age 45.\47\ This underscores that the ability to communicate in English 
is not an influencing factor as a matter of general principle.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \47\ See 20 CFR part 404, subpart P, appendix 2, Tables No. 1, 
2, and 3.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Further, we did not state the ability to communicate in English is 
irrelevant to job placement. Through this rule, we are simply 
acknowledging the changes that have occurred in the labor market and 
the workforce in the last four decades. The data we presented in the 
NPRM demonstrated that individuals with LEP, including those who speak 
no English, are participating in the U.S. labor force at considerably 
higher levels than previously. This indicates that more jobs are 
present in the national economy for the LEP population. We are not 
legally bound to establish disability determination criteria based on 
every possible influencing vocational factor. Rather, we are required 
to determine that jobs exist in the national economy for disability 
applicants and recipients (if they are determined to no longer be 
qualified for payments based on medical factors).
    Comment: Multiple commenters disagreed with the statement from the 
NPRM that English language proficiency has the least significance for 
unskilled work, because most unskilled jobs involve working with things 
rather than with data or people.\48\ They contended that even unskilled 
jobs require some level of training, which would include verbal or 
written instructions. Several commenters also said that many unskilled 
jobs require public contact and the ability to communicate in English. 
These commenters noted that unskilled jobs like a ``fast food worker'' 
include duties such as taking customer orders and communicating the 
orders to the kitchen. Some commenters noted that the Occupational 
Information Network (O*NET) does not list any job for which knowledge 
of the English language is unnecessary or unimportant.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \48\ See 84 FR 1006, 1008 (February 1, 2019), citing 20 CFR part 
404, subpart P, appendix 2, sections 201.00(h)(4)(i) and 202.00(g).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Response: The data we cited does not support the commenter's view. 
A large number of individuals with LEP, including those who speak no 
English, participate in the labor force in a variety of occupations. 
The Brookings analysis cited in the NPRM shows that over 1 million 
individuals with LEP, including those who speak no English, are 
represented in each of the following occupations: Building and grounds 
cleaning and maintenance; production; construction and extraction; food 
preparation and serving; transportation and material moving; sales and 
related occupations; and office and administrative support.\49\ This 
data indicates that, contrary to the commenters' assumptions, employers 
do find a way to communicate with LEP employees, indicating that LEP is 
not a barrier to all types of employment.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \49\ See 84 FR 1006, 1009.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Comment: In the NPRM, we noted that the work history of those 
claimants found disabled under Rule 201.17 or Rule 202.09 (the two main 
grid rules that we used for the inability to communicate in English) 
\50\ included the following ten occupations: Laborer, machine operator, 
janitor, cook, maintenance, housekeeping, driver, housekeeper, truck 
driver, and packer.\51\ Pointing to this list, several commenters 
contended that only physically demanding work is available to 
individuals who speak no English, because the DOT classifies these jobs 
as ``medium'' and ``heavy'' work. These commenters further argued that 
this list underscores how difficult it would be for older, severely 
impaired individuals who are unable to communicate in English to adjust 
to other work available in the national economy.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \50\ See 20 CFR part 404, subpart P, appendix 2, Tables No. 1 
and 2. We refer to the numbered rules in the tables as ``grid 
rules.''
    \51\ See 84 FR 1006, 1009.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Response: The occupations cited are not all as physically demanding 
as characterized by the commenters. These occupations are types of work 
that many claimants whom we found ``unable to communicate in English'' 
had previously done, and many of them exist as unskilled, light 
exertional level work. In a supplemental document, ``Table of example 
entries of `cook,' `machine operator' and `housekeeping' jobs in the 
Dictionary of Occupational Titles,'' \52\ we list multiple examples of 
``cook,'' ``machine operator,'' and ``housekeeping'' occupations with 
their corresponding strength requirement and specific vocational 
preparation.\53\ As shown in our table, the DOT has multiple entries of 
various ``cook'' occupations that range in exertional level from light 
to medium. As well, the DOT lists numerous entries for ``machine 
operator'' occupations that range from sedentary to very heavy 
exertional levels. ``Housekeeping'' occupations exist at the light 
exertional level. Moreover, the ten occupations listed above do not 
represent all jobs that a person who may be found ``unable to 
communicate in English'' can do. Finally, English language proficiency 
has the least significance for unskilled work because most unskilled 
jobs involve working with things rather

[[Page 10592]]

than with data or people. From our adjudicative experience, we know 
that a significant number of unskilled jobs exist at the sedentary and 
light exertional levels in the national economy.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \52\ The supporting document, ``Table of example entries of 
``cook, ``machine operator,'' and ``housekeeping'' jobs in the 
Dictionary of Occupational Titles'' is available at http://www.regulations.gov as supporting and related material for docket 
SSA-2017-0046.
    \53\ Specific vocational preparation is the amount of time 
required by a typical worker to learn the job.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    In fact, in the NPRM we also said that the Brookings analysis shows 
that over 1 million individuals with LEP, including those who speak 
English ``not at all,'' are represented in each of the following 
occupations: Building and grounds cleaning and maintenance; production; 
construction and extraction; food preparation and serving; 
transportation and material moving; sales and related occupations; and 
office and administrative support. These occupations represent seven of 
22 major occupation groups that exist in the national economy.\54\ Each 
major group contains numerous jobs that exist at varying exertional 
levels. As well, we note that sales and related occupations and office 
and administrative support are not physically taxing by nature.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \54\ See https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_stru.htm.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Comment: Several commenters contended that we should not eliminate 
a rule that affects only a very small group of people who are age 45 or 
older, are restricted to sedentary or light work, and are without 
skills.
    Response: Our goal in publishing this rule is to ensure we use the 
most accurate, current criteria possible when determining if someone is 
disabled. The data we cited in the NPRM and here, indicating the 
existence of jobs in the national economy for individuals with LEP, 
supports our decision to remove the inability to communicate in 
English. It is the supportability and applicability of the criteria 
used, not the number of people affected, that drives this policy. The 
increase in the LFPR and employment rate in the LEP population apply to 
both the LEP individuals who are under 45 and the LEP individuals who 
are 45 or older. We also note that the two groups' LFPR and employment 
rate in 2017 were comparable, as shown in Table 6, below.\55\
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \55\ For more detailed information, see the Office of Research, 
Evaluation, and Statistics (ORES) Analysis of 1980 Census and 2017 
American Community Survey: English Proficiency, Labor Force 
Participation, and Employment, Table 1: Estimated labor force 
participation of working-age population (25-64), by English 
proficiency and age, 1980 and 2017, and Table 2: Estimated 
employment rate of working-age population (25-64), by English 
proficiency and age, 1980 and 2017, available at regulations.gov as 
a supporting and related material for docket SSA-2017-0046.

 Table 6--Comparison of LEP LFPR and Employment Rates for Ages 25-44 vs.
                               Ages 45-64
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                 Ages 25-44   Ages 45-64
                                                    (%)          (%)
------------------------------------------------------------------------
LFPR for LEP Individuals......................         74.2         70.9
Employment Rate for LEP Individuals...........         94.9         95.6
------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Comment: Some commenters contended that we offered no meaningful 
evidence that the nationwide job prospects for ``older, severely 
disabled workers with very limited functional capacity who are unable 
to communicate in English'' have improved. They asserted that we did 
not establish that a sufficient occupational base of jobs exists for 
this narrow group of individuals.
    Response: In the NPRM and this final rule, we presented data 
demonstrating that the national workforce has changed, and that 
individuals who are unable to communicate in English are working in 
much greater numbers than previously. Further, the inability to 
communicate in English is just one of multiple factors that we consider 
under the sequential evaluation process. Thus, workers who are 
``severely disabled'' are likely to qualify for Social Security 
disability payments based on medical or other factors, rather than on 
their inability to communicate in English. Because this final rule 
removes only one category of several from our consideration of 
education, and education is just one of many factors that we consider 
under the sequential evaluation process, it does not follow that 
removal of this factor would lead to ``severely disabled'' people no 
longer being able to receive disability payments. For example, at step 
3 of the sequential evaluation, we will continue to determine whether a 
claimant is disabled based solely on ``medical severity'' of a 
claimant's impairments, without considering age or English language 
proficiency.\56\ Similarly, at step 5 of the sequential evaluation 
process, we will still consider the factors of age, education, and work 
experience to determine if the individual can adjust to other work in 
the national economy.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \56\ See 20 CFR 404.1520(a) and (d) and 416.920(a) and (d).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Comment: Many commenters asserted that claimants who are unable to 
communicate in English have fewer vocational opportunities than the 
claimants with the same level of education who can communicate in 
English.
    Response: The Act does not require us to consider whether the 
individuals who are unable to communicate in English and individuals 
who are able to communicate in English have equivalent vocational 
opportunities when assessing disability. Under the Act, the issue of 
whether an individual is disabled is determined based on whether an 
individual, with his or her RFC, age, education, and work experience, 
is able to perform any substantial gainful work that exists in 
significant numbers in the national economy.\57\ We believe the data 
cited in the NPRM and in this final rule supports our position that 
there is such work available.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \57\ See sections 223(d)(2)(A) and 1614(a)(3)(B) of the Act, 42 
U.S.C. 423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

Education, Inability To Communicate in English, and Illiteracy

    Comment: Several commenters supported the proposal, including one 
commenter who noted that an individual's actual formal education is the 
best preparation for future jobs, and that assessing an individual's 
education category based solely on communication skills was 
``unreasonable.'' The commenter also indicated that our current rule 
might have the effect of stigmatizing as illiterate those people who 
cannot communicate in English. Another commenter stated that the 
``inability to communicate in English'' category is outdated, because 
it suggests that only a person who speaks English is educated enough to 
hold a job. Similarly, one commenter indicated that disregarding 
education simply because a person has limited English proficiency did 
not make sense, noting that many of her family members who know little 
English hold advanced degrees from their home country.
    Response: We acknowledge the support provided by the commenters, 
and reiterate that we no longer consider English proficiency to be the 
best proxy for assessing an individual's education level as part of our 
disability determination process. We therefore anticipate the revision 
we are making in this final rule will help us better assess the 
vocational impact of education in the disability determination process, 
in a manner consistent with the current national economy.
    Comment: One commenter, citing to research and to the U.S. Census 
Bureau's 2014 American Community Survey data, asserted that immigrants 
have difficulty transferring their foreign education, foreign 
credentials, and overseas job experience to the U.S. job market. 
Another commenter, also

[[Page 10593]]

pointing to the 2014 American Community Survey data, said that a 
significant number of immigrants are working in jobs for which they are 
educationally overqualified, and this demonstrates that they are not 
able to make full use of their educational background in the U.S. job 
market. One commenter described working with immigrants who were 
physicians in their native country but who could only qualify as low-
paid home health aides in the U.S. because of their poor English (and 
various licensing requirements).
    Response: The standard applied at step 5 to determine disability is 
not whether an individual is able to find work that maximizes the 
individual's education and work experience. Rather, the standard is 
whether an individual who cannot do his or her previous work is able to 
engage in ``any other kind of substantial gainful work'' which exists 
in the national economy, given his or her RFC, age, education, and work 
experience.\58\ The phrase ``any other kind of substantial gainful 
work'' makes clear that we are not required to identify work that 
maximizes an individual's education and work experience. Thus, finding 
a claimant not disabled because he or she has a capacity to adjust to 
work that is less than his or her education and skill level is entirely 
consistent with the Act. This is the case even for claimants who have 
the ability to fully communicate in English.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \58\ See sections 223(d)(2)(A) and 1614(a)(3)(B) of the Act, 42 
U.S.C. 423(d)(2)(A) and 1382c(a)(3)(B).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Comment: One commenter claimed that we did not show how foreign 
formal education, coupled with the inability to communicate in English, 
provides any vocational advantage. The commenter contended that we did 
not demonstrate that workers with a foreign formal advanced education 
are affected by this rule. The commenter opined that workers with the 
inability to communicate in English frequently lack a formal education.
    Response: The Act requires us to consider an individual's education 
in some cases when we make disability determinations. We clarify that 
we are not making conclusions about the numbers of workers with foreign 
advanced education who are affected by our current rules. Similarly, we 
acknowledge that individuals with an inability to communicate in 
English have various education levels, and we will continue to assign 
individuals to the most appropriate of the remaining education 
categories (illiteracy, marginal education, limited education, and high 
school education and above).\59\ Our final rule simply no longer 
prioritizes English skills over formal education.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \59\ See 20 CFR 404.1564(b)(1)-(4) and 416.964(b)(1)-(4).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Comment: Some commenters expressed that having formal education 
might not lead to a vocational advantage. One of these commenters noted 
that, even within the U.S., the quality of education varies 
significantly, and that many American high school graduates, especially 
those from low-income families, may have failed to develop reading 
skills beyond elementary levels due to differences in education 
funding. In this context, the commenter noted that if there were such 
variability among American educational institutions, correctly 
assessing formal education attained from another country would be even 
more difficult. Further, this commenter and several others noted that 
formal education from a non-English speaking country might not be 
helpful if the individual is unable to communicate in English.
    Response: We disagree. Because we have never assessed the quality 
of education that a particular school has provided, and that will not 
change in this rule. When we determine an individual's education 
category, we consider the numerical grade level an individual completed 
if there is no other evidence to contradict it. We will adjust the 
numerical grade level if other factors suggest it would be appropriate, 
such as past work experience, the kinds of responsibilities an 
individual may have had when working, daily activities, hobbies, or the 
results of testing showing intellectual ability.\60\
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \60\ See 20 CFR 404.1564 and 416.964.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    We also disagree with the comment that formal education from a non-
English speaking country might not be helpful if the individual is 
unable to communicate in English. Our current rules explain that 
educational abilities consist of reasoning, arithmetic, and language 
skills.\61\ An individual's actual educational attainment (reflecting 
those three areas, among others), not the specific language the 
individual speaks, generally determines the individual's educational 
abilities. Thus, lack of English language proficiency does not diminish 
an individual's actual educational abilities, nor does it negate 
educational abilities attained through formal education.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \61\ Id.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Comment: Several commenters said we should maintain our current 
rules because the effects of illiteracy and inability to communicate in 
English on an individual's ability to work would be similar. One 
commenter, for example, said that those individuals who are illiterate 
and those who are unable to communicate in English would have a similar 
inability to read basic safety signs and supervisory instructions. 
Another commenter expressed that keeping the ``illiteracy'' education 
category while eliminating the ``inability to communicate in English'' 
education category is inconsistent and biased. The commenter said 
someone who can read and write in another language, but cannot do so in 
English, faces the same hardships and challenges in a work place as an 
illiterate individual.
    Response: We disagree. Even though we treated illiteracy and 
inability to communicate in English similarly before this final rule, 
we maintained two distinct education categories for these situations, 
demonstrating that they are not the same. Individuals with LEP can have 
varying levels of education, ranging from none to post-secondary 
education, while an illiterate individual likely has no or minimal 
education.\62\ Further, from a practical standpoint, people with LEP do 
not experience the disadvantages that people with illiteracy do. For 
example, the commenter raised the issue of being unable to read safety 
warning signs. In that circumstance, someone who was illiterate would 
have no way of knowing what he or she were reading, and no way to find 
out other than asking someone. Someone with LEP, however, might be able 
to use a free online translator program on a personal handheld 
electronic device to find out the meaning of the sign's message.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \62\ See 20 CFR 404.1564(b)(1) and 416.964(b)(1).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Regarding the comment that reading documents and following 
instructions in a workplace may be challenging for some individuals who 
have no English language proficiency, the data cited in the NPRM and 
here indicate that many of these individuals are in fact participating 
in the workforce and are employed, despite the language barrier.
    Comment: One commenter suggested an alternative to our proposed 
rule. The commenter suggested that we revise the ``illiteracy'' 
education category to include the inability to read or write in any 
language, not just in English. The commenter contended that, with this 
revision, older individuals who cannot read or write in any language 
would be found disabled under the current grid rules that include 
``Illiterate or Unable to Communicate in English.''
    The commenter also suggested that we revise the ``inability to 
communicate

[[Page 10594]]

in English'' category. The commenter recommended that we consider 
education in another language, particularly at the high school level or 
above, when determining whether a claimant's inability to communicate 
in English has an impact on finding work in the national economy. The 
commenter further suggested that, for claimants with a considerable 
amount of education in a language other than English living in the U.S. 
territories, we should heavily weigh the effects of their education. 
The commenter noted that, due to complexities involved in determining 
availability of jobs in the national economy, we must use a vocational 
expert in such cases.
    Response: Regarding the commenter's suggestion about revising the 
illiteracy category, we note that our current regulations at 20 CFR 
404.1564 and 416.964 describe the illiteracy education category without 
reference to a specific language. As to the other suggestions, as the 
commenter noted, the options recommended would require our adjudicators 
to undertake complex analyses of even greater subjectivity, likely 
leading to inconsistent results. Further, if we were to adopt the 
suggestion of considering education differently in the U.S. 
territories, we would create a different set of rules for those living 
in places where English is not the dominant language. This would not be 
consistent with the intent of the Act that we apply our rules with 
national uniformity and consistency.\63\
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \63\ See H.R. Rpt. 90-544, at 40 (Aug. 7, 1967), and Sen. Rpt. 
90-744, at 49 (Nov. 14, 1967).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Comment: Some commenters asserted that the proposed rule would be 
too burdensome for us to administer. Specifically, they said our 
adjudicators would have difficulty assessing education attained in 
another language or in another country.
    Response: We acknowledge that evaluating education completed in 
another country could be complex at times. However, we already do this 
under our current rules. For claimants who are proficient in English, 
we assess foreign schooling if they attended school in another country. 
Under our current regulations, we use the highest numerical grade an 
individual completed to determine the individual's educational 
abilities unless there is evidence to contradict it.\64\ This will not 
change under the final rule. We will provide training to our 
adjudicators about how we will assess education under the new framework 
of the remaining four education categories. We do not anticipate that 
the evaluation process will become more burdensome.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \64\ See 20 CFR 404.1564(b) and 416.964(b).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

U.S. Territories and Countries With a Totalization Agreement

    Comment: A commenter supported our proposal, stating that 
evaluating disability claims based on an individual's ability to 
communicate in English is no longer appropriate considering the 
international expansion of the Social Security agreements (also known 
as totalization agreements).\65\
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \65\ Totalization agreements eliminate dual social security 
coverage in situations when a person from one country works in 
another country and is required to pay social security taxes to both 
countries on the same earnings. Thus, the commenter's point is that 
some individuals for whom we would evaluate inability to communicate 
in English under current policy might not actually be living in a 
country or territory where English is the dominant language.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Response: We acknowledge the commenter's support for the rule. We 
agree that the international reach of our disability program has 
steadily expanded, and we anticipate further expansion. As explained in 
the NPRM, in 1978 we had a totalization agreement with only one 
country. In contrast, we now have totalization agreements with 30 
countries, and English is the dominant language in only four of those 
countries. The increasingly global scope of our programs is also 
illustrated by the fact that, during the public comment period for the 
proposed rule, two new totalization agreements (with Slovenia and 
Iceland) went into effect.\66\
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \66\ In the NPRM, we reported we had totalization agreements 
with 28 countries See 84 FR 1006, 1009. Totalization agreements with 
Slovenia and Iceland went into effect on February 1, 2019 and March 
1, 2019, respectively. See 83 FR 64631 (2018) and 84 FR 6190 (2019). 
The 30 agreements include Slovenia and Iceland.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Comment: Several commenters claimed that our proposal appeared to 
be based on our experience adjudicating claims from individuals in the 
U.S. territories and outside of the U.S. These commenters asserted that 
we should not change nationwide policy based on a small number of 
``uncommon cases'' in these areas. One commenter referenced data 
stemming from an OIG report.\67\ This data seemed to indicate that 
during calendar year 2011-2013, there were an average of 122 disability 
allowances per year in Puerto Rico in which ``inability to communicate 
in English'' was a deciding factor.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \67\ Qualifying for Disability Benefits in Puerto Rico Based on 
an Inability to Speak English, available at https://oig.ssa.gov/sites/default/files/audit/full/pdf/A-12-13-13062_0.pdf.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Response: We disagree that we based our proposal on ``uncommon 
cases.'' The Puerto Rico data referenced by the commenter was only one 
source of support cited in the NPRM. As previously noted in this 
document, one of the reasons for the proposal is the expansion of the 
population with LEP as a portion of the U.S. population and the 
increase in their LFPR and employment rate, demonstrating that a lack 
of English proficiency is no longer the work barrier that it used to 
be. As stated previously, other reasons for the change include research 
and data related to English language proficiency, work, and education; 
the expansion of the international reach of our disability programs; 
and public comments we received on them in support of our NPRM.
    Comment: Another commenter expressed that because individuals 
living in Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories can and do move to one 
of the 50 States, and because many individuals receiving disability 
benefits while living abroad have a right to live in the U.S., current 
rules based on the dominant language of the U.S. should be retained.
    Response: We note that regardless of the individual's country of 
origin, residence or language, we administer the program based on 
uniform rules, because this is a national program.
    Comment: Some commenters suggested that we revise the ``inability 
to communicate in English'' category to distinguish the areas with more 
diverse labor markets, such as foreign language enclaves, from the rest 
of the U.S., where the ability to communicate in English may be more 
important vocationally.
    Response: We are required to administer a national disability 
program that applies rules uniformly across the nation, which means we 
must apply the same rules regardless of where a claimant resides. Thus, 
adopting this suggestion would be contrary to the Act, which prohibits 
us from considering work that exists only in very limited numbers or in 
relatively few geographic locations as work that exists in the 
``national economy.'' \68\ The intent of the Act was to ``provide a 
definition of disability which can be applied with uniformity and 
consistency throughout the Nation, without regard to where a particular 
individual may reside, to local hiring practices or employer 
preferences, or to the state of the local or national economy.'' \69\ 
The language of the Act clearly reflects this principle.\70\ 
Accordingly, our rules must

[[Page 10595]]

remain national in scope. Removing the category of ``inability to 
communicate in English'' and considering actual educational attainment 
for all claimants keeps our program in line with its national scope, 
and promotes accurate assessment of disability throughout the 50 
States, the District of Columbia, the U.S. territories, and abroad.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \68\ See sections 223(d)(2)(A) and 1614(a)(3)(B) of the Act, 42 
U.S.C. 423(d)(2)(A) and 1382c(a)(3)(B).
    \69\ See H.R. Rpt. 90-544, at 40 (Aug. 7, 1967), and Sen. Rpt. 
90-744, at 49 (Nov. 14, 1967).
    \70\ The relevant text in full says: ``An individual shall be 
determined to be under a disability only if his physical or mental 
impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only 
unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, 
education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of 
substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, 
regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in 
which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or 
whether he would be hired if he applied for work. For purposes of 
the preceding sentence (with respect to any individual), ``work 
which exists in the national economy'' means work which exists in 
significant numbers either in the region where such individual lives 
or in several regions of the country.'' See sections 223(d)(2)(A) 
and 1614(a)(3)(B) of the Act, 42 U.S.C. 423(d)(2)(A) and 
1382c(a)(3)(B).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Comment: One commenter asserted that they perceived us to be 
concerned about whether ``inability to communicate in English'' should 
be considered for the claimants currently living in Puerto Rico or 
internationally, and that this assumed concern is misplaced. According 
to the commenter, because we administer a Federal program with a 
national scope, the Act requires that we consider jobs in the 
``national economy,'' and whether work exists in the ``immediate area 
in which [the claimant] lives'' \71\ is irrelevant.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \71\ Id.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Response: We disagree with the commenter's assertion that we 
proposed this rule based solely, or even primarily, on concerns about 
limited regions. As we stated above, the examples of Puerto Rico and 
claimants living outside the U.S. were only part of our justification 
for this rule. We wanted our rules in this area to reflect the 
increased existence of jobs in the national economy for LEP workers; 
the research and data related to English language proficiency, work, 
and education; the expansion of the international reach of our 
disability programs; and in response to public comments we received on 
them in support of our NPRM.
    However, we do note that the Act does not prohibit us from 
considering if work exists in significant numbers in the ``immediate 
area'' where a claimant lives.\72\ While we do not require that the 
work exists in the immediate area in which the claimant lives, we do 
require that the work exists in significant numbers either in the 
region where the individual lives (an area larger than the immediate 
area in which the claimant lives and which may or may not include jobs 
in the immediate area) or in several regions of the country.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \72\ Id.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Comment: One commenter requested that we share more data to enable 
the public to better assess whether issues with ``inability to 
communicate in English'' are national in scope. The commenter asked for 
data on allowances under ``inability to communicate in English,'' and 
the educational attainment of those claimants by State. The commenter 
opined that this would confirm either that there is a national problem 
in the application of ``inability to communicate in English,'' or that 
the problem is a local one based in the unique characteristics of 
Puerto Rico as a territory.
    Response: We believe the data we have provided already about some 
State allowance rates under Rule 201.17 and 202.09 in the NPRM's 
supporting material is sufficient to demonstrate that this rule is 
based on more than just information from Puerto Rico. Because we are 
administering a national program, providing more state-by-state data is 
out of context. As we discussed in the NPRM and this final rule, the 
data we cited indicates there have been changes in the national 
workforce since we published our current rules over 40 years ago. These 
changes demonstrate that the ``inability to communicate in English'' 
education category is no longer a useful indicator of an individual's 
educational attainment or of the vocational impact of an individual's 
education.
    Comment: One commenter suggested that we should not disregard this 
rule in its entirety, but apply it in limited circumstances. As an 
example, the commenter said that we should codify the U.S. First 
Circuit Court of Appeals' decision in Crespo v. Secretary of Health and 
Human Services.\73\ This suggestion would allow us to continue to apply 
the current rule where English is the predominant language.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \73\ See Crespo v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 831 
F.2d 1 (1st Cir. 1987).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Response: The commenter asked us to apply this final rule 
disparately in different regions. In the Crespo case example cited by 
the commenter, the court found it acceptable to consider, during our 
disability evaluation process, the claimant's ability to communicate in 
Spanish in place of the ability to communicate in English, because the 
claimant was a resident of Puerto Rico. In recommending that we apply 
Crespo nationally, the commenter is therefore suggesting that we should 
only proceed with the final rule for areas in which our beneficiaries 
may reside, but English is not the primary spoken language (e.g., 
Puerto Rico; foreign countries with whom we have totalization 
agreements). The commenter, therefore, is recommending that we maintain 
the current rule in the 50 States.
    Regarding the specific example of Crespo, as even the commenter 
noted, the court explicitly declined to apply the rationale outside of 
this specific case.\74\ As well, we administer a national disability 
program that applies rules uniformly across the nation, regardless of 
where a claimant resides.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \74\ Id. at 7. (``In using the grid as a framework for 
consideration of the vocational testimony, therefore, the ALJ was 
justified in treating claimant's fluency in Spanish as tantamount to 
fluency in English. See 20 CFR 404.1564(b)(5) (inability to 
communicate in English is a vocational consideration `[b]ecause 
English is the dominant language of the country'). In so holding, we 
do not suggest that the Secretary, in relying on the grid for a 
dispositive finding on disability in appropriate cases where no 
significant nonexertional impairments are present, is free to 
substitute Spanish for English in the requirements of the grid 
whenever a claimant resides in Puerto Rico. We need not, and do not, 
reach that issue.'')
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

Implementation, Efficiency, and Burden

    Comment: One commenter said that our employees believe the proposed 
rules would lead to inefficient and unfair resolutions of claims. The 
commenter stated that he had spoken with one former and one current SSA 
employee about the proposal.
    Response: We disagree with this comment. We decide each claim 
fairly and always strive to provide timely decisions. As part of our 
implementation of this final rule, we will provide comprehensive 
training to our staff to ensure we continue to meet the obligation of 
providing timely, accurate, and consistent decisions. We will also 
continue to monitor for quality in the decisionmaking process to ensure 
our adjudicators apply the rules correctly.
    Comment: In the NPRM, we proposed to apply this rule for ``new 
applications, pending claims, and continuing disability reviews (CDR), 
as appropriate, as of the effective date of the final rule.'' \75\ 
Several commenters opposed the proposed implementation process. These 
commenters said that using the new rules for claims pending at the time 
this final rule goes into effect is inefficient.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \75\ 86 FR 1006 and 1011.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Some commenters asked that we not apply this final rule to claims 
filed prior to the effective date. They expressed concern that 
claimants may experience a delay in receiving their decisions because 
we may need to hold supplemental hearings for claims that are in post-
hearing status as of the effective date of this final rule.

[[Page 10596]]

    Another commenter asked that we clarify whether the proposed 
changes would apply to new applicants only, and whether current 
recipients of disability benefits would need to re-apply when this 
final rule becomes effective. The commenter noted that a non-English 
speaking individual whom we previously found disabled may have a 
reliance interest. This commenter suggested we should allow that person 
to retain payments if our medical review process reveals that his or 
her medical condition remained unchanged.
    Response: Our standard practice is to implement the final rule as 
of the effective date for all pending claims, CDRs, and new 
applications. We will do the same for this regulation.\76\ We disagree 
that this implementation process will be inefficient and note that, in 
general, it will not require us to hold supplemental hearings. Because 
we already ask for education information as part of our standard 
disability determination process (at the time of initial application 
filing and again at the reconsideration and hearing levels), and this 
information is not dependent on the claimant's ability to communicate 
in English, we will be able to use that existing information when we 
implement the final rule. For example, we ask all claimants to provide 
the highest grade of school completed; to specify whether they received 
special education in school; and to disclose if they completed 
vocational school. We therefore do not anticipate needing more 
education information than what we already have as part of our existing 
processes. Further, as discussed above, we will provide training to 
adjudicators to ensure accurate, effective, and timely adjudication of 
claims.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \76\ With only one exception, namely Revisions to Rules 
Regarding the Evaluation of Medical Evidence, 82 FR 5844 (January 
18, 2017), we have always implemented our final rules as of the 
effective date for all pending claims, CDRs, and new applications. 
We implemented that regulation differently because individuals who 
filed claims before the effective date of those final rules may have 
requested evidence, including medical opinions from treating 
sources, based on our then-current policies. 82 FR at 5862.This 
reliance-based justification is not applicable here because we 
expect additional development of evidence related to this final rule 
to be minimal.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Current beneficiaries will not need to reapply. However, we will 
use this final rule when we review their cases under our CDR process. 
This change in the rule will only affect those who experience medical 
improvement and were previously assigned to the inability to 
communicate in English education category. For these individuals only, 
we will redetermine their education category and assign one of the four 
remaining education categories based on their level of education. 
Because we use the Medical Improvement Review Standard to determine if 
an individual's disability continues or ceases in a CDR, this final 
rule will not affect a beneficiary whose medical condition has not 
changed since he or she was last found disabled.
    Comment: Multiple commenters asserted that the proposed rule would 
require us to obtain the testimony of vocational experts at the hearing 
level to assess whether specific jobs require the ability to 
communicate in English. Some commenters stated that the proposed rule 
would delay favorable decisions for many claimants unable to 
communicate in English, because vocational expert testimony is 
available only at the hearing level.
    One commenter said that because language limitations affect 
individuals' RFCs, the hypothetical questions presented to vocational 
experts at hearings should include the effects of an inability to 
communicate in English. Another commenter said that the proposed rules 
would lengthen the hearings, because vocational experts would need to 
respond to additional hypothetical questions about whether certain jobs 
require the ability to communicate in English.
    Response: We disagree with these comments. The same rules will 
apply at all adjudicatory levels. Therefore, even at the hearing level 
where a vocational expert may testify about the demands and existence 
of jobs in the national economy, adjudicators will not consider the 
effects of inability to communicate in English. With regard to the 
comment that we would need to incorporate the effects of language into 
a hypothetical RFC posed to vocational experts, as we noted previously, 
under our current rules and this final rule, we do not consider the 
effects of an inability to communicate in English when we assess an 
individual's RFC. We consider only the effects of an MDI or a 
combination of MDIs to determine an individual's RFC.\77\ ``Inability 
to communicate in English'' is not an MDI. When the final rule takes 
effect, we will not consider whether an individual can communicate in 
English at any step of the sequential evaluation process. Thus, if 
claimants or their representatives raise the issue of the inability to 
communicate in English in a hypothetical question posed to a vocational 
expert during a hearing, we will find it to be out of scope for the 
purposes of determining disability.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \77\ See 20 CFR 404.1545 and 416.945.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Comment: Several commenters asserted that this rule would cause 
more appeals, would increase the disability hearings backlog, and would 
increase our administrative costs.
    Response: The changes in this final rule are straightforward, and 
represent an incremental change to our larger disability evaluation 
process. An estimated increase of 22,382 hearings spread over the 10-
year period of fiscal years (FY) 2020-2029 is small relative to the 
number hearings we hold annually (for example, we made over 700,000 
hearing decisions in FY 18).\78\ Therefore, we do not anticipate 
difficulty administering the changes with current resources. We have 
not seen evidence to indicate that the proposed rule, as implemented, 
would substantially increase the number of pending hearings, or that it 
would impose unmanageable administrative costs. See the ``E.O. 12866'' 
section of the preamble, further below, for our specific estimates of 
administrative costs associated with this rule.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \78\ See https://www.ssa.gov/appeals/.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

Discrimination and Disparate Impact

    Comment: Some commenters expressed that they supported the proposed 
rules because they believed the rules would allow us to more fairly 
assess education and account for increased diversity in the U.S. One 
commenter said that the proposed rules would allow us to adjudicate 
disability claims more equitably. Another commenter criticized the 
current rules, opining that the rules may impose social and political 
stigmas upon non-English speaking individuals. One commenter asserted 
that measuring English abilities is neither an effective, nor a 
culturally sensitive way to assess an individual's ability to work.
    Response: We acknowledge and note the commenters' support for the 
rule. As stated above, we expect that the revisions will help us better 
assess the vocational impact of education in the disability 
determination process.
    Comment: Many commenters said the proposed rules would have a 
negative effect on vulnerable populations, such as immigrants, older 
people, women, refugees, individuals with low-income, and individuals 
with LEP. Some commenters expressed the proposed rules would have a 
disparate impact and discriminatory effect on thousands of older, non-
English-speaking citizens. Other commenters were concerned that the 
proposed rules would result in the denial of benefits to a large number 
of claimants.
    One commenter said that denial and loss of benefits would cause 
economic harm to the affected claimants. Another

[[Page 10597]]

commenter noted that the proposed rules could contribute to 
``generational poverty.'' One commenter, citing Dorsey v. Bowen, 828 
F.2d 246, (4th Cir. 1987), noted that the ``Social Security Act is a 
remedial statute to be broadly construed and liberally applied in favor 
of beneficiaries.'' This commenter asserted that we are strictly 
construing the Act against the most vulnerable of our citizens.
    Another commenter said that the Supreme Court has interpreted that 
discrimination based on language or English proficiency is a form of 
national origin discrimination. Another commenter said that we should 
undertake an analysis of the potential discriminatory impact of the 
proposed rules.
    One commenter said discrimination by government against taxpayers 
because of their race or national origin is strictly prohibited under 
the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. 
Constitution. Some commenters said the proposed rules discriminate 
against individuals based on their national origin, race, or 
immigration status. One such commenter contended that the proposed 
rules demonstrate a hostility towards non-native born Americans.
    Response: We disagree with the commenters' statements that this 
rule will have a negative effect on vulnerable populations; is 
discriminatory in intent or effect; or that it is motivated by 
hostility towards a certain group of people. We have not seen any 
evidence (nor did the commenters present any) that the proposed rules, 
as implemented, would negatively affect vulnerable populations, because 
we will continue to assess other eligibility criteria for such 
populations besides the ability to communicate in English.
    In response to claims that the rule is discriminatory, we note that 
the new rule, once implemented, will apply the same standards for 
evaluating educational level to all claimants, regardless of country of 
origin or residence and primary language. Similarly, we strongly 
disagree with the statement that our rule was motivated by hostility 
towards a certain group of people. Like all Federal agencies, we are 
obligated to serve all members of the public equally. We take that 
responsibility seriously, and we do not discriminate against 
individuals based on race, age, gender, language, national origin, 
immigration status, or for any other reason. We intend for this rule to 
help us better assess the vocational factor of education in the 
contemporary work environment for all claimants and beneficiaries.
    The proposed rule also does not violate the equal protection 
component of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. In the 
NPRM, we articulated a basis for no longer distinguishing between those 
who are unable to communicate in English and those who are able to 
communicate in English at step 5 of the sequential evaluation process. 
Further, under this final rule, we will apply the same standard in 
assessing education for all claimants. This final rule does not 
categorize individuals based on any particular identities, nor does it 
deprive an individual of a protected property interest. Our regulations 
provide due process to individuals with appropriate procedural 
protections. This final rule is consistent with the constitutional 
principles of equal protection.
    Finally, the principle that the Act should be ``broadly construed'' 
in favor of beneficiaries does not mean that we should not, or may not, 
revise our rules to account for changes in the national workforce. The 
quoted statement is an interpretative standard sometimes applied by the 
courts in the judicial review of agency decisions; it does not mean 
that we are required to develop rules that only favor beneficiaries, or 
that do not result in any program and administrative savings.
    Comment: Some commenters asserted that the proposed rules are 
``arbitrary and capricious.''
    Response: The commenters appear to be referring to the standard 
that courts apply when they review rules promulgated after informal 
rulemaking.\79\ Under this standard, the agency must examine the 
relevant data and articulate a satisfactory explanation for its action, 
including a rational connection between the facts found and the choice 
made. A rule may be arbitrary and capricious, for example, if an agency 
has relied on factors which Congress has not intended it to consider, 
entirely failed to consider an important aspect of the problem, offered 
an explanation for its decision that runs counter to the evidence 
before the agency, or is so implausible that it could not be ascribed 
to a difference in view or the product of agency expertise.\80\ None of 
that is true here. In this rulemaking, the final rule is supported by 
the objective data we have provided, and we have explained our 
justifications for the proposed change in the NPRM and this final rule 
in detail. The final rule is not inconsistent with the Act or any other 
Federal law, and we have considered and responded to the significant 
concerns raised by the commenters. Our rule therefore cannot be 
considered ``arbitrary or capricious'' under the law.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \79\ See 5 U.S.C. 706(2)(A).
    \80\ Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Association of the United 
States v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., 463 U.S. 29, 
43 (1983).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Comment: Some commenters asserted that our proposed rules 
conflicted with various legal authorities. A few commenters opined that 
the NPRM conflicted with Federal laws that protect the rights of 
persons with LEP, who experience discrimination in health care, 
employment, and public services, under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act 
of 1964 and implementing regulations. One commenter stated that the 
NPRM violated Executive Order 13166, which directs Federal agencies to 
ensure that all persons with LEP should have meaningful access to 
federally-conducted and federally-funded programs and activities.
    Response: This final rule does not violate the Civil Rights Act of 
1964, its implementing regulations, Executive Order 13166, or any other 
provision of Federal law. We are eliminating a rule that reflected the 
existence of jobs in the economy for certain individuals who were 
unable to communicate in English at the time we issued it in 1978. The 
final rule we are adopting today simply reflects the changes in the 
national workforce since 1978, and the greater existence of jobs for 
individuals with LEP. When the final rule takes effect, we will no 
longer consider an individual's English proficiency when determining an 
individual's education. Such a rule does not preclude individuals with 
LEP from having meaningful access to our programs; it merely updates 
our rules to reflect that an inability to communicate in English is no 
longer a useful indicator of an individual's educational attainment or 
of the vocational impact of an individual's education.
    We remain committed to fulfilling our responsibilities and 
obligations towards individuals with LEP, and this final rule is fully 
consistent with Federal laws that protect the rights of persons with 
LEP. We have a longstanding commitment to ensure that individuals with 
LEP have equal access to our programs. For example, we provide free 
interpreter services,\81\ and Social Security information is publicly 
available in several languages.\82\ This final rule has no effect on 
these services, which ensure that all individuals with

[[Page 10598]]

LEP will continue to have meaningful access to our programs.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \81\ Available at https://www.ssa.gov/multilanguage/langlist1.htm.
    \82\ Available at https://www.ssa.gov/site/languages/en/.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

Department of Homeland Security (DHS)'s NPRM on Inadmissibility on 
Public Charge Grounds

    Comment: Multiple commenters asserted that our NPRM does not align 
with DHS's NPRM, ``Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds,'' 
published on October 10, 2018.\83\ Specifically, these commenters cited 
the following excerpt from the DHS NPRM: ``an inability to speak and 
understand English may adversely affect whether an alien can obtain 
employment. Aliens who cannot speak English may be unable to obtain 
employment in areas where only English is spoken. People with the 
lowest English speaking ability tend to have the lowest employment 
rate, lowest rate of full-time employment, and lowest median 
earnings.'' \84\ The commenters also noted Census data research DHS had 
cited to support this assertion. Commenters expressed that the two 
proposed rules were not in accordance with each other because the DHS 
proposal stated that an ability to speak English directly affects the 
ability to find work, whereas our proposal stated that an ability to 
speak English is irrelevant for an individual's ability to find 
employment.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \83\ 83 FR 51114; Available at https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2018/10/10/2018-21106/inadmissibility-on-public-charge-grounds. We note that DHS also published a corresponding final rule 
on August 14, 2019, 84 FR 41292, which is available at https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/08/14/2019-17142/inadmissibility-on-public-charge-grounds. However, several district 
courts have ordered that DHS cannot implement and enforce this final 
rule. The court orders also postpone the effective date of the final 
rule until there is final resolution in these cases. Some of the 
injunctions are nationwide and prevent DHS from implementing the 
rule anywhere in the United States. We note, though, that the Ninth 
Circuit recently granted a stay of one of these nationwide 
injunctions because ``DHS has shown a strong likelihood of success 
on the merits, that it will suffer irreparable harm, and that the 
balance of the equities and public interest favor a stay'' pending 
appeal. City and County of San Francisco v. United States 
Citizenship and Immigration Services, 944 F.3d 773, 781 (9th Cir. 
2019). We also note that, more recently, the Supreme Court granted a 
stay of another nationwide injunction in one of these cases. 
Department of Homeland Security v. New York, No. 19A785, 2020 WL 
413786 (U.S. Jan. 27, 2020).
    \84\ See 83 FR 51114, 51195 (internal footnotes omitted).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Response: Because we administer different programs with different 
legal mandates than DHS does, our proposed rule explored different 
aspects of job availability and English proficiency data than DHS did. 
For the purposes of our programs and the population we are examining, 
we believe the data we reviewed and presented supports our final rule 
consistent with our statutory mandate to consider, among other things, 
an individual's education and the existence of work in the national 
economy. DHS's legal mandate is to determine whether an alien (that is, 
a non-citizen, non-U.S. national person) seeking admission to the 
United States or adjustment of status to that of a lawful permanent 
resident is likely at any time in the future to become a public charge. 
We are not projecting the likelihood of LEP individuals being hired for 
particular types of jobs, i.e. those that would make the alien more 
likely to be self-sufficient. We are only stating that jobs exist in 
the national economy that LEP individuals perform. Finally, some of the 
commenters inaccurately characterized our NPRM as stating that the 
ability to speak English is irrelevant to finding work. We did not make 
this assertion. Rather, we stated that, as a result of changes in the 
national workforce over the last 40 years, we no longer consider 
English proficiency to be an appropriate proxy for assessing an 
individual's education level as part of our disability determination 
process.

Other Comments

    Comment: Some commenters supported this proposal based on their 
assumption that it would improve Social Security Disability Insurance 
(SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program integrity and 
save money. One commenter expressed the view that we would prevent an 
estimated 10,500 adults \85\ with ``manageable work limitations'' from 
receiving SSDI or SSI disability benefits, keeping more resources for 
those who are ``truly needy.''
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \85\ Although the citation provided by this commenter refers to 
the ``Office of the Inspector General, Qualifying for disability 
benefits in Puerto Rico based on an inability to speak English, 
Social Security Administration (2015),'' we believe the number 
10,500 refers to the estimated reduction of 6,500 Federal Old Age, 
Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) beneficiary awards per 
year and 4,000 SSI recipient awards per year on average over the 
period FY 2019-28 that our Office of the Chief Actuary provided in 
the NPRM. See 84 FR 1006, 1011.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Response: The purpose of this final rule is not to save money or to 
make it more difficult for individuals to qualify for disability 
benefits. Rather, we anticipate that this final rule will allow us to 
better assess the vocational impact of an individuals' education on 
their ability to work in the contemporary work environment. Finally, we 
note that our standard for determining disability is based on the 
criteria in the Act and our regulations, and not whether an individual 
has ``manageable work limitations'' or whether the individual is 
``truly needy.''
    Comment: Some commenters asserted that the criteria for qualifying 
for disability benefits are already strict enough, and that we should 
not impose additional restrictions or barriers to qualifying for 
benefits.
    Response: The rule does not create additional restrictions or 
barriers to qualifying for benefits; rather, it is modifying the way in 
which we assess educational level achieved, which is an existing 
category we examine. As discussed above and in the NPRM, since 1978, 
the national workforce has become more linguistically diverse, and 
employment rate and LFPR have expanded considerably for individuals 
with LEP. This final rule thus recognizes that English proficiency is 
no longer an appropriate proxy for assessing education as part of our 
disability determination process.
    Comment: Some commenters said that the inability to communicate in 
English is not a disability, suggesting our rules equated it with being 
disabled.
    Response: We note that inability to communicate in English is one 
of many factors we consider in determining disability under the current 
rules. An inability to communicate in English by itself is not a 
determinative factor when determining whether an individual is disabled 
under our current rules.
    Comment: One commenter stated that we should not pursue a final 
rule because we had not completed a full Regulatory Impact Analysis 
(RIA) for the regulation. Other commenters opined that the NPRM did not 
account for significant and foreseeable costs to society. These 
commenters asserted that burdens created by this rule would increase 
costs to state and local governments and community organizations, 
because they would likely spend more on things such as general 
assistance and homelessness assistance to meet the needs of those 
harmed by this rule.
    Response: As we report below and as we reported in the NPRM, we 
expect this final rule will have a financial impact on the Social 
Security trust fund of over $100 million a year.\86\ Regulations that 
have annual effect on the economy of $100 million or more are deemed 
economically significant and have additional analytical requirements 
under E.O. 12866, such as requiring an RIA. Our Office of the Chief 
Actuary estimated this rule would technically meet this threshold: For 
the period of FY 2020 through FY 2029, they estimated a reduction of 
$4.5

[[Page 10599]]

billion in Federal Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) 
benefit payments and a reduction of $0.8 billion in Federal SSI 
payments. However, we have adequately accounted for the direct effects 
of this rulemaking through our analysis of transfer impacts and 
administrative costs. While not a separate RIA document, we believe the 
evaluations completed in the NPRM and this final rule fulfill our 
obligation to review the direct effects of the rulemaking. Some of the 
costs mentioned by commenters, such as money spent on homelessness 
assistance, are out of the scope of our rulemaking and associated 
analysis.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \86\ 84 FR 1006, 1011.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    A Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA) analysis is also required for 
rules that have a significant economic impact on a substantial number 
of small entities (SISNOSE); the commenters allude to this requirement 
with their assertion that this rule will ``increase costs to state and 
local governments and community organizations.'' Specifically, the RFA 
\87\ requires an RFA analysis under the following circumstances: 
``[w]henever an agency is required . . . to publish general notice of 
proposed rulemaking for any proposed rule, . . . the agency shall 
prepare and make available for public comment an initial regulatory 
flexibility analysis.'' That analysis must ``describe the impact of the 
proposed rule on small entities.'' In addition, when the agency 
subsequently publishes a final rule, it must ``prepare a final 
regulatory flexibility analysis.'' The requirement to prepare an 
initial or final regulatory flexibility analysis, however, ``shall not 
apply to any proposed or final rule if the head of the agency certifies 
that the rule will not, if promulgated, have a significant economic 
impact on a substantial number of small entities.'' The agency must 
publish such certification in the Federal Register when it publishes 
its notice of proposed rulemaking or final rule, ``along with a 
statement providing the factual basis for such certification.'' The 
agency must provide a copy of its certification and accompanying 
statement to the Chief Counsel for Advocacy of the Small Business 
Administration. Because this final rule only directly affects 
individuals, it will not impose any direct costs on small entities, 
including small government jurisdictions. We consider the potential 
costs commenters cited to be indirect, and as such they would be 
outside the scope of our SISNOSE determination.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \87\ 5 U.S.C. 601-612
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Comment: One commenter indicated that we should not require 
individuals to speak English to receive disability benefits. Another 
commenter opposed the proposed rules because, according to the 
commenter, we may deny benefits to people who cannot speak because of a 
medical impairment.
    Response: The comment implies that this final rule would require 
individuals to speak English to receive disability benefits. Neither 
the current rule nor this final rule requires individuals to be able to 
communicate in English to obtain benefits. When this final rule becomes 
effective, whether or not an individual is able to communicate in 
English will be irrelevant for the purposes of disability 
determination.
    This final rule does not affect people who cannot speak because of 
a medical impairment. As we explained earlier, we will continue to 
evaluate medical impairment-related speech difficulties under our rules 
to determine whether these limitations meet a listing or preclude the 
individual from performing substantial gainful work.
    Comment: Several commenters opposed the proposed rule, contending 
that LEP individuals with disabilities face barriers to learning 
English. They noted that the assumption underlying the proposed rule is 
that LEP individuals with disabilities can learn English in order to 
work. They argued that we did not acknowledge that cognitive and 
physical disabilities might interfere with their ability to learn a new 
language. Other commenters opposed the proposal on the grounds that 
many individuals with LEP may not have the resources (e.g., time, 
money, access to classes) to learn a new language. Other commenters 
opined that an inability to learn a new language might indicate that 
the person has challenges in adjusting to new work. These commenters 
argued that difficulty in learning to communicate in English can 
therefore be a proxy for difficulty learning the duties of a job, and 
for this reason, we should retain ``inability to communicate in 
English.''
    Response: Many of these comments are outside the scope of our 
proposal and disability program. We do not consider whether an 
individual is able to learn English under the current rules. We also do 
not need the factor ``inability to communicate in English'' to 
determine whether an individual is likely to have difficulty learning 
the duties of a job. We already consider an individual's cognitive and 
physical limitations related to MDIs that may interfere with an 
individual's ability to perform basic work activities. This final rule 
does not change this.
    Comment: One commenter said we should not apply the proposed rules 
to individuals who may otherwise be eligible for disability under the 
``arduous unskilled work'' medical-vocational profile.\88\ To be found 
disabled under the profile, an individual must possess no more than a 
marginal education and must have spent 35 years performing arduous 
unskilled work. The commenter expressed that even if such an individual 
has had more than a marginal education in another country, it did not 
allow him or her to do anything other than the arduous unskilled work. 
The commenter argued that we should not penalize such an individual for 
having an education that does not serve him or her in the U.S.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \88\ The arduous unskilled physical labor profile applies when 
an individual has no more than a marginal education and work 
experience of 35 years or more during which he or she did only 
arduous unskilled physical labor. The individual also must not be 
working and no longer able to do this kind of work because of a 
severe impairment(s). If these criteria are met, we will be find the 
individual disabled. See 20 CFR 404.1562(a) and 416.962(a); and POMS 
DI 25010.001 Special Medical-Vocational Profiles, available at 
https://secure.ssa.gov/poms.NSF/lnx/0425010001.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Response: Under our final rule, inability to speak English will no 
longer be a proxy for education. For individuals who fall under the 
arduous unskilled physical labor profile, we will still examine their 
years of history performing solely arduous unskilled physical labor. As 
well, we will more closely examine the actual education level attained. 
Since we will still look at education and work history, individuals who 
fall under the profile will not be disadvantaged.
    Comment: One commenter found it problematic that the proposed rules 
would bar an adjudicator from lowering an individual's education 
category based on ``inability to communicate in English.'' The 
commenter also noted that claimants who participated in an English 
learner program but remain unable to communicate in English likely did 
not attain the level of reasoning, arithmetic, and language abilities 
that the person was supposed to have gained. The commenter reasoned 
that such individuals could not have developed educational abilities 
due to inability to communicate in English, and we should therefore 
consider this in our proposal.
    Response: We agree that in cases where individuals receive 
elementary or secondary education in a language other than their 
primary language, the language learning process may or may not affect 
their actual educational attainment. Our current regulations 
acknowledge that the numerical grade level completed in school may not 
represent an individual's actual educational abilities, which may be

[[Page 10600]]

higher or lower.\89\ Therefore, to the extent supported by individual 
case evidence, we will continue to consider the related impact on 
educational abilities when assigning an education category in these 
cases.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \89\ See 20 CFR 404.1564(b) and 416.964(b).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Comment: One commenter opposed the proposed rule, citing a decline 
in American high school graduates' foreign language skills as a reason. 
The commenter said that only 20 percent of today's high school 
graduates have taken a foreign language class, and that colleges have 
closed 651 foreign language programs between 2013 and 2016. The 
commenter cited this data to support the assertion that many future 
employers would be unable to communicate even simple statements with 
foreign language-speaking employees. The commenter implied that this 
would affect the workforce, and that we failed to consider such effects 
in our rulemaking.
    Response: The evidence we cited in the proposed rule and repeated 
here, demonstrates that many individuals with LEP are currently in the 
labor force; this indicates that their employers' potential inability 
to converse with them in their primary language is not a barrier to 
employment.\90\ Further, our rulemaking (and rulemaking in general) can 
only contemplate evidence that actually exists; it is outside the scope 
of rulemaking to consider an assumption about whether future employers 
will be able to communicate in a foreign language to accommodate their 
employees with LEP.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \90\ See ORES English Proficiency Analysis Table 2.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Comment: We received comments that we should retain the ``inability 
to communicate in English'' for health and work safety reasons. Some 
commenters asserted that individuals with LEP in the national workforce 
are at a greater risk for occupational injuries and illnesses, most 
often due to language barriers. They claimed the proportion of fatal 
and nonfatal workplace injuries experienced by immigrants has been 
increasing.\91\
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \91\ The commenter cited Flynn M. A., Safety & the Diverse 
Workforce: Lessons from NIOSH's Work With Latino Immigrants. 
Professional Safety (2002), p. 52.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Similarly, another commenter said we should not adopt the proposed 
rules because some employers may require English language proficiency 
for safety reasons. The commenter further noted that employers might 
prefer to hire those who can communicate in English to avoid workers' 
compensation claims from accidents due to an inability to understand 
safety instructions.
    Response: While we acknowledge the importance of safety in the 
workplace, it is outside the scope of our program to assess safety 
concerns associated with jobs a worker may be able to perform. As 
discussed above, in determining whether a claimant can adjust to other 
work, we do not consider the hiring practices of employers or whether 
the individual is likely be hired to do particular work, among other 
things.\92\ As we stated above, the Act requires us only to determine 
whether a claimant can perform any substantial gainful work which 
exists in the national economy.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \92\ See 20 CFR 404.1566(c) and 416.966(c).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Comment: Some commenters said we should wait to adopt the proposed 
rules because we may propose additional revisions to other rules 
relating to disability determinations in the near future. The 
commenters said there will be more changes to the disability 
determination process because of a forthcoming new information system 
and vocational tool and they asked that we not incorporate revisions to 
current rules in a piecemeal or a premature manner.
    Response: The possibility that we may propose other revisions in 
the future is not a reason to delay revisions that are currently 
warranted (based on the reasons we have articulated in the NPRM and 
here).
    Comment: One commenter opined that this final rule would undermine 
the current occupational base that has served as the basis for the grid 
rules. As an example, the commenter noted that SSA has taken 
administrative notice of approximately 1,600 sedentary and light 
occupations in the national economy at the unskilled level. Based on 
this fact, the commenter asserted that the grid rules assume that a 
person with either light or sedentary work capacity, but who would be 
classified as ``unable to communicate in English,'' would not actually 
be able to perform the 1,600 unskilled light and sedentary occupations. 
The commenter stated that, accordingly, we would now need to reassess 
all of our work categories, and document evidence that a significant 
number of jobs are actually available for individuals who cannot 
communicate in English.
    Response: We disagree with the commenter's conclusions, as the 
commenter's foundational statements reflect incorrect assumptions. 
While the current grid rules do reflect the ``inability to communicate 
in English'' as a factor to consider, they are not, in fact, based on 
the assumption that full English proficiency is required to engage in 
all of the 1,600 sedentary and light occupations in the national 
economy at the unskilled level. The existing occupational base does not 
distinguish between jobs that require or do not require English 
proficiency. Rather, the occupational base reflects the existence of 
unskilled sedentary, light, medium, and heavy jobs that exist in the 
national economy.
    Comment: One commenter asserted that we withdrew a 2005 NPRM that 
proposed to revise the vocational factor of age \93\ due to 
insufficient evidentiary support. The commenter drew a parallel between 
that NPRM and this rule, recommending that we withdraw this rule 
because, in the commenter's stated opinion, we had failed to provide 
conclusive supporting research for this rule and the 2005 NPRM.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \93\ Age as a Factor in Evaluating Disability 70 FR 67101 (Nov. 
4, 2005), withdrawn on May 8, 2009 at 74 FR 21563.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Response: We disagree with this comment, because our decision not 
to finalize the 2005 NPRM that proposed revising the rules on the 
vocational factor of age was not due to a lack of adequate 
justification. As well, the commenter did not provide any evidence 
demonstrating that we had failed to provide sufficient supporting 
research for the 2005 NPRM. For this final rule, as explained 
previously, we presented sufficient supporting evidence to justify our 
changes, both in the NPRM and again here.
    Comment: A few commenters asserted that we incorrectly claimed that 
the education level of non-English speakers in the workforce has 
increased over time.
    Response: We did not claim that the education level of individuals 
who are unable to communicate in English in the workforce has increased 
over time. We clarify that in the NPRM, we noted that out of all 
claimants who reported an inability to read, write, or speak English in 
FY 2016, 49% (58,175) of title II claimants and 39% (49,943) of title 
XVI claimants completed a high school education or more.\94\ We cited 
this data to show that many people who reported an inability to read, 
write, or speak English do have a high school education or more. We do 
not suggest that this data shows that educational attainment increased 
over the years for individuals who are unable to communicate in 
English.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \94\ See 84 FR 1006, 1008.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

How We Will Implement This Final Rule

    We will begin to apply this final rule to new applications, pending 
claims,

[[Page 10601]]

and CDRs, as appropriate, as of the effective date of this final 
rule.\95\
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \95\ We will use the final rule beginning on its effective date. 
We will apply the final rule to new applications filed on or after 
the effective date, and to claims that are pending on and after the 
effective date. This means that we will use the final rule on and 
after its effective date in any case in which we make a 
determination or decision, including CDRs, as appropriate. See 20 
CFR 404.902 and 416.1402.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

Regulatory Procedures

Executive Order 12866, as Supplemented by Executive Order 13563

    We consulted with OMB and determined that this final rule meets the 
criteria for an economically significant regulatory action under 
Executive Order 12866, as supplemented by Executive Order 13563. 
Therefore, OMB reviewed the rule. Details about the economic impacts of 
our rule follow.
Anticipated Reduction in Transfer Payments Made by Our Programs
    Our Office of the Chief Actuary estimates, based on the best 
available data, that this final rule will result in a reduction of 
about 6,000 OASDI beneficiary awards per year and 3,800 SSI recipient 
awards per year, on average, for the period FY 2020-29, with a 
corresponding reduction of $4.5 billion in OASDI benefit payments and 
$0.8 billion in Federal SSI payments for the total period of FY 2020-
29.
Anticipated Administrative Costs to the Social Security Administration
    The Office of Budget, Finance, and Management estimates 
administrative costs of $90 million (840 work years) \96\ for the 10-
year period from FY 2020 through FY 2029. Although we included 
administrative cost estimates for the disability determination services 
(DDS) in our NPRM, we are now using a revised cost estimate methodology 
that does not allow us to calculate the total administrative costs for 
SSA and DDS separately. Administrative costs include considerations 
such as system enhancements, potential appeals, and additional time 
needed to process initial disability claims and CDRs.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \96\ We calculate one work year as 2,080 hours of labor, which 
represents the amount of hours one SSA employee works per year based 
on a standard 40-hour work week.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    As mentioned above, the rule will result in a $90 million 
administrative cost to the government for the 10-year period from FY 
2020 through FY 2029. However, we believe the qualitative benefits of 
ensuring the disability determination criteria we use are up-to-date 
and reflective of the current economy (specifically, for this rule, the 
criteria we use to determine an individual's education level) justifies 
this one-time cost. This final rule will also help us to fulfill our 
statutory obligation to be the best possible stewards of the Social 
Security programs.
    We also determined that this final rule meets the plain language 
requirement of Executive Order 12866.

Congressional Review Act

    Pursuant to the Congressional Review Act (5 U.S.C. 801 et seq.), 
OMB designated this rule as a major rule, as defined by 5 U.S.C. 
804(2).

Executive Order 13132 (Federalism)

    We analyzed this final rule in accordance with the principles and 
criteria established by Executive Order 13132, and determined that it 
will not have sufficient Federalism implications to warrant the 
preparation of a Federalism assessment. We also determined that the 
final rule will not preempt any State law or State regulation or affect 
the States' abilities to discharge traditional State governmental 
functions.

Executive Order 13771

    Based upon the criteria established in Executive Order 13771, we 
have identified the anticipated administrative costs as follows: The 
final rule is anticipated to result in administrative costs of $90 
million and 840 work years for the period of FY 2020 through FY 2029. 
See the E.O. 12866 section above for further details on these costs.
    This rule is designated a 13771 ``regulatory'' action.

Regulatory Flexibility Act

    We certify that this final rule will not have a significant 
economic impact on a substantial number of small entities because it 
affects individuals only. Therefore, the Regulatory Flexibility Act, as 
amended, does not require us to prepare a regulatory flexibility 
analysis.

Paperwork Reduction Act

    This final rule contains public reporting requirements in the 
regulation sections listed below, or will require changes in the forms 
listed below, which we did not previously clear through an existing 
Information Collection Request.
    Below is a chart showing current burden estimates (time and 
associated opportunity costs) for all ICRs due to the implementation of 
the regulation. None of the burdens associated with these ICRs will 
change as a result of this final rule.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                                                              Average
                                       Description of        Number of                        Average        Estimated      theoretical    Total annual
    OMB No. form No. regulation       public  reporting     respondents    Frequency of     burden per     annual burden    hourly cost     opportunity
              section                    requirement        (annually)       response        response         (hours)         amount      cost (dollars)
                                                                                             (minutes)                      (dollars) *         **
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
0960-0072, SSA-454................  Continuing                   541,000               1              60         541,000        * $10.22   ** $5,529,020
                                     Disability Review
                                     Report.
0960-0579, SSA-3368...............  Disability Report--        2,258,510               1              90       3,387,766         * 10.22   ** 34,622,968
                                     Adult.
0960-0681, SSA-3373...............  Function Report--          1,734,635               1              61       1,763,546         * 10.22   ** 18,023,440
                                     Adult.
0960-0635, SSA-3380, 20 CFR         Function Report--            709,700               1              61         721,528         * 22.50   ** 16,234,380
 404.1564, 20 CFR 416.964.           Adult Third Party.
0960-0144, SSA-3441...............  Disability Report--          760,620               1          *** 41         520,346         * 10.22    ** 5,317,936
                                     Appeal.
                                                         -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Total.........................  ....................       6,004,465  ..............  ..............       6,934,186  ..............   ** 79,727,744
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
* We based these figures on average DI payments, as reported in SSA's disability insurance payment data, and by average U.S. citizen's hourly salary, as
  reported by Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
** This figure does not represent actual costs that we are imposing on recipients of Social Security payments to complete this application; rather,
  these are theoretical opportunity costs for the additional time respondents will spend to complete the application. There is no actual charge to
  respondents to complete the application.
*** This burden per response figure is not exact, as we have multiple collection modalities under this OMB Number with different response time
  estimates, and input the closest minute estimate to complete the chart. In the Supporting documents, we explain in further detail the different
  modalities and their actual numbers.

    We are submitting an Information Collection Request for clearance 
to OMB. We are soliciting comments on the burden estimate; the need for 
the information; its practical utility; ways to enhance its quality, 
utility, and clarity;

[[Page 10602]]

and ways to minimize the burden on respondents, including the use of 
automated techniques or other forms of information technology. If you 
would like to submit comments, please send them to the following 
locations:

Office of Management and Budget, Attn: Desk Officer for SSA, Fax 
Number: 202-395-6974, Email address: [email protected].
Social Security Administration, OLCA, Attn: Reports Clearance Director, 
3100 West High Rise, 6401 Security Blvd., Baltimore, MD 21235, Fax: 
410-966-2830, Email address: [email protected].
    You can submit comments until March 26, 2020, which is 30 days 
after the publication of this notice. To receive a copy of the OMB 
clearance package, contact the SSA Reports Clearance Officer using any 
of the above contact methods. We prefer to receive comments by email or 
fax.
(Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance Program Nos. 96.001, Social 
Security--Disability Insurance; 96.002, Social Security--Retirement 
Insurance; 96.004, Social Security--Survivors Insurance; 96.006, 
Supplemental Security Income.)

List of Subjects

20 CFR Part 404

    Administrative practice and procedure, Blind, Disability benefits, 
Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance, Reporting and record 
keeping requirements, Social Security.

20 CFR Part 416

    Administrative practice and procedure, Reporting and recordkeeping 
requirements, Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

    Dated: January 30, 2020.
Andrew Saul,
Commissioner of Social Security.

    For the reasons stated in the preamble, we are amending 20 CFR part 
404, subpart P, and part 416, subpart I, as set forth below:

PART 404--FEDERAL OLD-AGE, SURVIVORS AND DISABILITY INSURANCE 
(1950--)

Subpart P--Determining Disability and Blindness

0
1. The authority citation for subpart P of part 404 continues to read 
as follows:

     Authority:  Secs. 202, 205(a)-(b) and (d)-(h), 216(i), 221(a) 
and (h)-(j), 222(c), 223, 225, and 702(a)(5) of the Social Security 
Act (42 U.S.C. 402, 405(a)-(b) and (d)-(h), 416(i), 421(a) and (h)-
(j), 422(c), 423, 425, and 902(a)(5)); sec. 211(b), Pub. L. 104-193, 
110 Stat. 2105, 2189; sec. 202, Pub. L. 108-203, 118 Stat. 509 (42 
U.S.C. 902 note).


0
2. Amend Sec.  404.1564 by:
0
a. Removing the sixth sentence of paragraph (b) introductory text and 
paragraph (b)(5);
0
b. Redesignating paragraph (b)(6) as paragraph (c); and
0
c. Revising the first sentence of newly redesignated paragraph (c).
    The revision reads as follows:


Sec.  404.1564  Your education as a vocational factor.

* * * * *
    (c) Information about your education. We will ask you how long you 
attended school, and whether you are able to understand, read, and 
write, and do at least simple arithmetic calculations.* * *

0
3. Amend appendix 2 to subpart P of part 404 by:
0
a. In section 201.00:
0
i. Revising paragraph (h)(1)(iv) and the second sentence of paragraph 
(h)(2);
0
ii. In paragraph (h)(4)(i), revising the first sentence, adding a 
sentence after the first sentence, and revising the last sentence; and
0
iii. In Table No. 1, revise rules 201.17, 201.18, 201.23, and 201.24;
0
b. In section 202.00:
0
i. Revising paragraphs (d) and (g); and
0
ii. In Table No. 2, revising rules 202.09, 202.10, 202.16, and 202.17; 
and
0
c. In section 203.00, Table No. 3, revising rule 203.01.
    The revisions and addition read as follows:

Appendix 2 to Subpart P of Part 404--Medical-Vocational Guidelines

* * * * *
    201.00 * * *
    (h)(1) * * *
    (iv) Are illiterate.
    (2) * * * It is usually not a significant factor in limiting 
such individual's ability to make an adjustment to other work, 
including an adjustment to unskilled sedentary work, even when the 
individuals are illiterate.
* * * * *
    (4) * * *
    (i) While illiteracy may significantly limit an individual's 
vocational scope, the primary work functions in most unskilled 
occupations involve working with things (rather than with data or 
people). In these work functions, education has the least 
significance. * * * Thus, the functional capacity for a full range 
of sedentary work represents sufficient numbers of jobs to indicate 
substantial vocational scope for those individuals age 18-44, even 
if they are illiterate.
* * * * *

   Table No. 1--Residual Functional Capacity: Maximum Sustained Work Capability Limited to Sedentary Work as a
                              Result of Severe Medically Determinable Impairment(s)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                         Previous work
              Rule                      Age             Education          experience            Decision
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
                                                  * * * * * * *
201.17.........................  Younger            Illiterate.......  Unskilled or none  Disabled.
                                  individual age
                                  45-49.
201.18.........................  ......do.........  Limited or         ......do.........  Not disabled.
                                                     Marginal, but
                                                     not Illiterate.
 
                                                  * * * * * * *
201.23.........................  Younger            Illiterate.......  Unskilled or none  \4\ Do.
                                  individual age
                                  18-44.
201.24.........................  ......do.........  Limited or         ......do.........   \4\ Do.
                                                     Marginal, but
                                                     not Illiterate.
 
                                                  * * * * * * *
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 * * * * * * *
\4\ See 201.00(h).

    202.00 * * *
    (d) A finding of disabled is warranted where the same factors in 
paragraph (c) of this section regarding education and previous work 
experience are present, but where age, though not advanced, is a 
factor which significantly limits vocational adaptability (i.e., 
closely approaching advanced age, 50-54) and an individual's 
vocational scope is further significantly limited by illiteracy.
* * * * *
    (g) While illiteracy may significantly limit an individual's 
vocational scope, the primary work functions in most unskilled 
occupations relate to working with things (rather than data or 
people). In these work functions, education has the least

[[Page 10603]]

significance. Similarly, the lack of relevant work experience would 
have little significance since the bulk of unskilled jobs require no 
qualifying work experience. The capability for light work, which 
includes the ability to do sedentary work, represents the capability 
for substantial numbers of such jobs. This, in turn, represents 
substantial vocational scope for younger individuals (age 18-49), 
even if they are illiterate.

 Table No. 2--Residual Functional Capacity: Maximum Sustained Work Capability Limited to Light Work as a Result
                                 of Severe Medically Determinable Impairment(s)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                         Previous work
              Rule                      Age             Education          experience            Decision
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
                                                  * * * * * * *
202.09.........................  Closely            Illiterate.......  Unskilled or none  Disabled.
                                  approaching
                                  advanced age.
202.10.........................  ......do.........  Limited or         ......do.........  Not disabled.
                                                     Marginal, but
                                                     not Illiterate.
 
                                                  * * * * * * *
202.16.........................  Younger            Illiterate.......  Unskilled or none   Do.
                                  individual.
202.17.........................  ......do.........  Limited or         ......do.........   Do.
                                                     Marginal, but
                                                     not Illiterate.
 
                                                  * * * * * * *
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

* * * * *
    203.00 * * *

 Table No. 3--Residual Functional Capacity: Maximum Sustained Work Capability Limited to Medium Work as a Result
                                 of Severe Medically Determinable Impairment(s)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                         Previous work
              Rule                      Age             Education          experience            Decision
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
203.01.........................  Closely            Marginal or        Unskilled or none  Disabled.
                                  approaching        Illiterate.
                                  retirement age.
 
                                                  * * * * * * *
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

* * * * *

PART 416--SUPPLEMENTAL SECURITY INCOME FOR THE AGED, BLIND, AND 
DISABLED

Subpart I--Determining Disability and Blindness

0
4. The authority citation for subpart I of part 416 continues to read 
as follows:

     Authority: Secs. 221(m), 702(a)(5), 1611, 1614, 1619, 1631(a), 
(c), (d)(1), and (p), and 1633 of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 
421(m), 902(a)(5), 1382, 1382c, 1382h, 1383(a), (c), (d)(1), and 
(p), and 1383b); secs. 4(c) and 5, 6(c)-(e), 14(a), and 15, Pub. L. 
98-460, 98 Stat. 1794, 1801, 1802, and 1808 (42 U.S.C. 421 note, 423 
note, and 1382h note).


0
5. Amend Sec.  416.964 by:
0
a. Removing the sixth sentence of paragraph (b) introductory text and 
paragraph (b)(5);
0
b. Redesignating paragraph (b)(6) as paragraph (c); and
0
c. Revising the first sentence of newly redesignated paragraph (c).
    The revision reads as follows:


Sec.  416.964  Your education as a vocational factor.

* * * * *
    (c) Information about your education. We will ask you how long you 
attended school, and whether you are able to understand, read, and 
write, and do at least simple arithmetic calculations. * * *

[FR Doc. 2020-03199 Filed 2-24-20; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 4191-02-P