Can Unemployment Benefits Affect Your SSDI Case? Attorney Sara J. Frankel Explains

Since the start of the coronavirus crisis, an average of one million Americans per week have filed for unemployment benefits. For those also trying to obtain Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, many wonder if receiving unemployment can impact their SSDI case. Experienced disability attorney Sara J. Frankel explains how unemployment benefits could jeopardize your eligibility for SSDI. 

Is there a law against collecting both unemployment and SSDI benefits?

After applying for SSDI benefits it typically takes months until you receive a determination on your claim. Collecting unemployment benefits while waiting could reduce financial stress. But is it legal to do so? 

Technically, there is no law against applying for SSDI benefits while getting unemployment. But the devil is in the details. While it is currently legal to collect unemployment benefits and apply for disability benefits at the same time, getting unemployment can impact your eligibility for SSDI payments (and in some states, the unemployment office may ask for repayment of your received unemployment benefits if you thereafter receive SSDI benefits retroactively for the same time period). 

Comparing apples to oranges: How unemployment can impact SSDI

SSDI and unemployment benefits are two significantly different financial assistance programs. Unemployment benefits are intended to help those who are out of work who are not disabled. People who apply and receive unemployment benefits are typically: 

  • Actively looking for a new job
  • Applying for positions and attending job interviews 
  • Intending to use unemployment as only a short-term measure
  • Certify in their initial application and each week that they are ready, willing, and able to work

SSDI benefits exist for entirely different reasons. Those applying for SSDI are typically (with very limited exceptions):

  • Not able to work due to their health impairments 
  • Not actively looking for a job  
  • Intending to use SSDI benefits as long-term financial assistance (for a minimum of 12 consecutive months). 

Therefore, filing a claim for SSDI benefits while obtaining unemployment benefits is contradictory. Collecting unemployment benefits indicates that you are ready, willing and able to work. When you file a claim for SSDI, you are alleging that you are disabled and unable to work due to your health problems. 

Bottom line: Filing for unemployment if you can not work due to your health impairments can hurt your SSDI case.

Because the nature of these two financial assistance programs is contradictory, filing for both can significantly impact your eligibility for SSDI benefits. By filing for unemployment, you are certifying that you are able to work and are looking for a job to replace your unemployment benefits eventually. But if you file a claim for SSDI, you are saying you can not work, not able to perform any job in the local and or national economies due to your health impairments. 

This contradiction in statements can impact how your credibility is assessed by SSA. In fact, at hearings before SSA administrative law judges, claimants are often asked about this conflict in statements made to the two agencies, and it can impact how credible they find your written statements and testimony regarding the severity of your symptoms and limitations of illness.

Getting unemployment benefits contradicts the qualifying criteria for SSDI. To receive SSDI, you have to be deemed unable to work and earn “substantial gainful activity” in the local and or national economies. 

What you need to do to protect either claim is file for one or the other — not both. If you are not disabled and are looking for another job, filing for unemployment benefits is the way to go. 

If you are disabled and unable to work, do not file for unemployment. File a claim for SSDI.

Contact Attorney Frankel for Help

Navigating the SSDI landscape alone can be overwhelming. But having an experienced SSDI attorney at your side can make the process less daunting. 

Attorney Sara J. Frankel is a former staff attorney with the Social Security Administration. Her more than 25 years of experience handling Social Security Disability and SSI benefit matters make her the legal partner you need to determine the best course of action for your unique Rhode Island or Massachusetts SSDI and or SSI case. 

Contact the Law Offices of Sara J. Frankel & Associates today for a free consultation at 508-730-1451 or by email.