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Migrant workers may receive Social Security disability benefits

If you are a migrant worker in California, you are doing back-breaking labor for very little money. But that is only one of the drawbacks to this career choice. For instance, are you aware that only 2 percent of migrant workers are eligible for Social Security benefits, including disability?

Migrant workers underserved, often exploited

Dishonest employers and crew bosses can tell migrant workers that they paid the money that was deducted from their employees' paychecks to the Social Security Administration. But some may pocket the funds instead.

Social Security taxes are also known as "FICA," a deduction that works out to 6.2 percent of workers' total wages earned. An additional 1.45 percent is subtracted for Medicare benefits.

It's also insufficient for employers to just send the government the workers' Social Security taxes. In order for migrant workers to draw off their Social Security benefits when they reach retirement age — or sooner, if they become disabled and can no longer work — their employers must also match the migrants' contributions with their own funds.

Other criteria must be met in order to be eligible to draw benefits from Social Security. The worker has to be either a United States citizen or a legal resident. Under most circumstances, migrants must have at least a decade of documented work under their belts, but exceptions can be made for youthful workers who become disabled and can no longer work.

Other challenges the migrant worker community faces

Many migrant workers may not fully grasp the true dangers their occupations present. As one of the top three industries in the United States with the most risks, the agriculture industry poses even more hazards for migrant workers due to the language barrier when non-English speaking workers are hired by bosses who don't speak the language of their workers — usually Spanish.

Improperly stored and used agricultural pesticides can give migrant workers caustic burns, poison children and pets and inflict damage to the skin and eyes of those who work around these dangerous industrial-strength chemicals.

Migrants in California work long hours outdoors in very hot weather, putting them at risk of suffering heat stress or even heat stroke. Working closely with plants and soil can cause outbreaks of dermatitis and infectious parasites. Migrant workers are also prone to developing urinary tract infections from holding their urine for long periods of time while out in the fields, and the migrants' cramped living conditions can become breeding grounds for tuberculosis.

What constitutes a disability?

There is no specific list of conditions that qualify as disabling. Your medical condition must keep you out of the workforce for a year or more in order to draw disability. Alternatively, if you are diagnosed with a terminal disease, e.g., certain cancers, kidney or other organ failure, etc., you and potentially your dependents may receive disability benefits.

Some additional conditions apply regarding dependents collecting the Social Security benefits of a deceased breadwinner. In many circumstances, the dependents must also be citizens or legal United States residents.

If all of this information is confusing or your claim is denied, an attorney with experience in handling employment law can assist you.

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