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Social Security Disability and Unemployment

The Social Security disability and unemployment insurance programs both help people facing difficulties. But the circumstances are different.

The disability program assists those who can't work due to a disabling medical condition. The unemployment insurance program helps people during an employment transition. These people can work, are willing and able to do so, and seek employment.

Social Security Administration (SSA) decision-makers often see a contradiction when a claimant collects unemployment. After all, these claimants seem to state that they can and can't work.

This article discusses essential considerations before filing for disability while collecting unemployment. And, if you do collect under both programs, you will learn how to avoid losing disability benefits.

See Social Security Disability Explained and Can I Get Unemployment Benefits? for more information.

Eligibility: Social Security Disability and Unemployment

SSA decision-makers consider program eligibility requirements when making disability determinations. They also consider the eligibility requirements of the unemployment insurance program. When you look at each, it is easy to see why many SSA decision-makers find them in conflict:

  • Unemployment benefits: Individuals must be ready, willing, and able to work full-time. (See Unemployment Benefits for more details.)
  • Disability benefits: Individuals must meet the SSA's strict definition of disability. This means a claimant must be unable to work at substantial gainful activity (SGA) levels. The inability to work must stem from a medical impairment. This impairment must have lasted or be expected to last at least 12 months or result in death. Full-time jobs almost always exceed SGA levels.

Many decision-makers see only the conflict in the eligibility requirements. But others will find you disabled even with evidence of unemployment benefits.

Considerations: Filing for Disability Benefits While Collecting Unemployment

Imagine you've applied for or received unemployment benefits. What happens if you apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits? Or for benefits under the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program?

There is good news and bad.

First, the good news. The SSA can't deny your disability case outright because you collect unemployment compensation. The SSA also can't discredit you for the same reason.

Now for the bad news. A disability decision-maker can consider your unemployment benefits when issuing an unfavorable decision. And they often do. But it must be only one of many factors why your claims are inconsistent with disability.

You can explain your circumstances to the SSA, including at the hearing level. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) may ask about your unemployment benefits. You can tell the ALJ why you think you're totally disabled when you've also stated you're ready and able to work.

It is up to you to prove you're disabled. So, answering all questions the SSA asks about your unemployment benefits is essential.

Receiving Both Types of Benefits

It is possible to jeopardize Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits if collected with unemployment insurance. This may occur in the following scenarios:

  • Your unemployment benefits increase your countable income. In this case, the SSA may reduce your SSI benefits. You might also owe the SSA any money you received over the allowable amount. The SSA can reduce your disability payments anytime, including during a redetermination review.
  • The SSA finds that your unemployment income pushes you over the allowable limit. This renders you ineligible for SSI payments, and you will lose SSI benefits.

There is an ongoing legislative attempt to prevent "double dipping." This means collecting both unemployment insurance benefits and SSDI simultaneously. As of 2023, the "Double Dip Elimination Act" (H.R. 3971) has not become law.

Make Sure You're Covered: Get Professional Legal Help

You might have more questions about Social Security disability claims and unemployment benefits. If so, a consultation with a Social Security disability attorney may be in your best interest.

A disability lawyer can provide legal advice on your disability application. After the pandemic, many attorneys hold initial consultations via online video. Others continue to have them in their law offices.

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Next Steps

Contact a qualified social security lawyer to assist in your social security disability matter.

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