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By: Elliott Andalman, Attorney at Law

Usually, social security disability (SSD) and unemployment benefits serve different populations. Unemployment benefits are paid to people who are willing and able to work but unable to find a job, while social security disability benefits are for people who are unable to work. Unfortunately, the processing of social security disability (SSD) applications goes very slowly for most people. An initial decision often takes six months, and many people have to appeal. From that point, the wait for a hearing is more than one year in much of the country. As a result, those who are not able to continue working because of illness often look to collect unemployment benefits in order to help pay the bills. This can be a problem because of the conflicting requirements of each program:

Social security disability eligibility:

  • Meet the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) definition of disability, which is, in general, medical inability to perform full-time work that is expected to last more than one year or result in death.

Unemployment eligibility:

  • Be unemployed through no fault of your own;
  • Have earned at least a minimum amount in wages during the 12 months prior to being unemployed; and
  • Be able to work and actively seeking employment.

Thus, you have to certify to the state that you are able to work for unemployment benefits and certify to SSA that you are not able to work for SSD benefits. Because of this contradiction, you can strengthen your SSD application by not applying for unemployment benefits.

We recognize that it may be a financial necessity to obtain unemployment benefits. If you do apply for and receive unemployment benefits, and also want to apply for SSD benefits, you have two options:

  1. You can apply while receiving unemployment benefits and then you may later have to amend your onset of disability date to when your unemployment benefits ended; or
  2. You can wait to file your SSD claim until your unemployment benefits have run out.

You may face repercussions for double-dipping. Unfortunately, when you go to hearing on your SSD claim, you will in all likelihood be questioned about your receipt of unemployment benefits. It’s important to answer these questions as honestly as you can. Nonetheless, some administrative law judges (ALJs) may use the receipt of unemployment benefits to discredit you and make it more likely that your SSD claim will be denied. Some ALJs may require that you amend your onset date until after the unemployment benefits ended. However, it is also true that some ALJs will award you all of your SSD benefits regardless of receipt of Unemployment. In that case, although it is unusual, it is not necessarily impossible for the state to ask for the return of the unemployment benefits paid to you.

Weigh your options carefully. For those of you who believe that you are medically disabled to continue working full time, the safest course of action is to forego unemployment benefits. The second choice is to wait until after your unemployment benefits run out. The third choice, if your state will allow it, is to only look for part-time work. Part-time work that pays less than $1,000.00 per month gross generally will not disqualify you for SSD benefits and therefore will not create the direct conflict explained above. Of course, even performing only part-time work can make it more difficult to prove you meet SSA’s definition of disability. You will still have to convince an ALJ that while you could work part-time, you could not earn enough to qualify for what SSA defines as “gainful, substantial activity” and you could not work full-time.

The waters become murky when it comes to applying for social security disability and unemployment benefits. If you have additional questions, please contact me, Elliott Andalman, for a consultation.

About Andalman & Flynn, P.C.: Andalman & Flynn, P.C. serves clients throughout Maryland and the District of Columbia, offering compassionate, quality service and results-driven representation across a broad range of legal areas. With a concentration on disability benefits law and family law, the firm focuses on cases that impact the rights of everyone, and they are there for clients when responsive legal help is most critical. For more information about Andalman & Flynn, please visit http://www.andalmanflynn.com, or call (301) 563-6685.