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Social Security Disability and Unemployment

Usually, Social Security disability and unemployment benefits are mutually exclusive because they serve different populations. Unemployment benefits are paid to people who are willing and able to work but unable to find a job. On the other hand, Social Security disability benefits are for people who are unable to work. Claiming both disability and unemployment benefits at the same time is unusual, but it is possible in some cases.

For example, individuals may receive reduced monthly disability payments if they can only work in a limited capacity. People with sedentary jobs like a filing job that doesn't require them to stand or lift anything over 10 pounds may qualify. The Social Security Administration conducts residual functional capacity assessments to determine if a person has limited ability to work. If the recipients are unable to find appropriate work through no fault of their own, they may collect unemployment benefits in addition to disability.

The conflict between these two types of benefits lies in the eligibility criteria for each, which is explained in greater detail below. See Social Security Disability Explained and Can I Get Unemployment Benefits? for additional information.

Eligibility: Social Security Disability and Unemployment

The Social Security Administration (SSA) does not explicitly deny Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) claims by those already receiving unemployment benefits. However, you can see by looking at the eligibility requirements why Social Security and unemployment claims often don't mix:

  • Unemployment: Must be ready, willing and able to work on a full-time basis (see "Unemployment Benefits" for more details)
  • Disability: Must be unable to work a full-time job ("substantial gainful activity") for 12 months because of a disabling medical condition. If a person is expected to be unable to work for 12 months, this qualifies as well.

A 1999 U.S. Supreme Court case held that Social Security disability claims "did not inherently conflict" with other types of benefits. However, it is up to the claimant to prove that his eligibility for unemployment benefits is not in conflict with a disability claim.

Receiving Both Types of Benefits

Individuals receiving both unemployment insurance and SSDI face possible repercussions for double dipping. It is possible for an individual to erroneously receive unemployment insurance despite being ineligible for unemployment due to his ability to qualify for SSDI. In some states, an individual who erroneously receives unemployment insurance must pay back the state.

This can occur while a recipient of unemployment insurance awaits a decision on his application for disability insurance. In applying for disability insurance, new circumstances may disqualify the recipient for unemployment insurance. Withholding information from a state employment insurance office can constitute fraud, potentially resulting in criminal prosecution as well as a hefty fine.

Recent Legislation

In June 2013, a handful of U.S. senators introduced bipartisan legislation to prevent individuals from receiving both SSDI and unemployment insurance. This legislation is called the Reducing Overlapping Payments Act. If the Act passes, the SSA will be required to suspend disability payments during any month in which a recipient also receives unemployment insurance. In addition, the Act would ensure the SSA has all the necessary information to be alerted to overlapping SSDI and unemployment insurance payments.

If your case is especially complex, or you have additional questions about disability and unemployment, you might consider speaking with a Social Security disability lawyer.

Next Steps
Contact a qualified social security lawyer to assist in your
social security disability matter.
(e.g., Chicago, IL or 60611)

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