Over the past several months, I have noted that my SSDI clients are regularly being asked by judges if they have filed for unemployment benefits. This question used to come up occasionally in the past, but now my clients are almost always asked if they have filed or are receiving unemployment.
The issue is this: when you file for state unemployment, you must assert that you are ready, willing and able to work. In the past, I would counsel my client to answer the judge’s question by stating that “I am willing and anxious to try to work and I would put forward my best effort to perform any job. I don’t know if my medical condition would allow me to perform reliably but I would certainly try.”
Given that Social Security’s stated policy is to encourage people with disabilities to return to work, I do not see a huge inconsistency in a claimant who is applying for both unemployment and SSDI.
However, as is the case with part time work, Social Security tends to view things in an “either-or” fashion. You are disabled or you are not, and there seems to be no middle ground.
Some judges take the position that if you say you are “ready, willing and able to work,” then by definition, you are not disabled. Apparently if you accept unemployment compensation sign your name to a statement that asserts that you can work, then you must not be disabled. Of course, you don’t automatically receive disability benefits if you do not apply for unemployment and sign a statement that you are not able to work. And there remains no answer to the question of how you can feed and house yourself and your family during the 2+ years that Social Security takes to decide whether you are disabled.
I think that this renewed focus on unemployment compensation arises from the political realm. Stories like this one refer to studies by academics which identify a correlation between disability applications and unemployment benefits. In other words, many unemployed workers are less likely to apply for disability as long as they are receiving unemployment. When unemployment runs out, they then apply for SSDI. The conclusion of these academics:
while the Social Security disability insurance program was established to offer financial assistance for people no longer capable of working due to an injury or poor health, these days, an expanding group of applicants with manageable health impairments — or no impairments at all — have added to the already financially-strapped system.
So, at least for the forseeable future, SSDI claimants who have applied for and received unemployment benefits will find that their disability applications will be viewed with increased scrutiny, especially if they waited until their unemployment checks ran out before they applied.
Jonathan Ginsberg represents Social Security disability claimants in Georgia. In practice for over 29 years, Jonathan publishes a widely known disability blog, a podcast and several disability web sites. In 2004, Jonathan published a "how to" book about Social Security disability called the Disability Answer Guide. Jonathan lives with his wife and 2 children in Atlanta.