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Can I Receive Unemployment Benefits if I Want to File for Social Security Disability?


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One of the more hotly contended issues in the Social Security Disability field is whether an intended SSDI or SSI applicant should also apply for disability benefits. While some Social Security lawyers believe that there is a minimal effect on one’s chances to receive a benefits award, other think that such a move may send mixed messages about the extent or severity of your condition. So, which side is right?

Well, like most legal questions, the answer is that it depends. It depends on a broad array of factors and circumstances that may be present in your case. For certain older individuals, it may make sense. But, in many cases, an application for both disability and unemployment may cause complications and create questions in the mind of the claim examiner or administrative law judge (ALJ). The remainder of this post will examine some of the arguments advanced by proponents and opponents of filing for both disability and unemployment benefits.

What Am I Stating when I File a Claim for SSD or SSI?

Some attorneys believe that one should not file for both types of benefits because the requirements for Social Security benefits and unemployment benefits are mutually exclusive.

These attorneys are likely to point out that when you file a claim for SSDI or SSI benefits, you are representing that you can meet both the medical and non-medical, technical program requirements. The program’s medical requirements, in part, requires a severe impairment to qualify. A severe impairment is one that has lasted or is expected to last for at least one year or end in death. Furthermore, the severe impairment must cause significant limitations to your day-to-day independent functioning.

By contrast, when you apply for unemployment, you also agree to certain conditions and certify that you are in compliance with those conditions. In most states, the unemployment applicant is required to be available for full time work and able to perform full-time work. In Arkansas eligibility for UI requires:

  • Residency in the state
  • Past work in the past 18 months
  • A minimum level of earnings
  • An ability to work for each week you receive benefits
  • Availability to work for each week you receive benefits

The tensions between the two programs should be immediately apparent. For Social Security benefits one must prove that their disability or impairment is so severe that they cannot work. In contrast, an unemployment benefits recipient must be able to and available for work. Most applicants will be unable to reconcile these tensions between the programs.

Exceptions Exist where It May Be Viable to Apply for Both

Some attorneys argue that there is no specific regulation, guideline, or determination that specifically bars receipt of simultaneous Social Security and unemployment benefits. This is true and in certain situations, at least technically, an individual may actually be able to qualify for both types of benefits.

For instance, a worker in his or her 60s may have been assigned a residual functional capacity (RFC), the things that he or she can still do despite a severe impairment, for only sedentary work. However due to his or her age and in light of past experience, education, available jobs, and training the worker may be entitled to a medical-vocational allowance despite his or her ability to work. This individual may be able to collect both unemployment and Social Security benefits.

However, collecting from both sources can have collateral effects. Income from unemployment can reduce the amount one receives in SSI benefits. Furthermore, an ALJ or claims examiner may not your applications to both benefits programs and use it to impeach your credibility. Therefore, you should always consult with an experienced Social Security Disability attorney before taking any action regarding receiving simultaneous Social Security and unemployment benefits.

Should I try to hide that I’m applying for both Social Security benefits and unemployment?

The worst thing you could do for your eligibility for either program is to lie about your ability to work, the nature of your disability, or to conceal the fact that you made claims for both types of benefits. Aside from having your application rejected, a number of other consequences can be imposed on those that engage in fraud. You may be required to pay the government back for benefits already received. In other situations, a prison sentence may be possible.

Before you take any action, contact an experienced Fayetteville AR disability lawyer. For more than 20 years Ken Kieklak has helped hard-working Arkansans who have developed a severe condition or impairment  with SSDI and SSI. To schedule a free and confidential consultation at the Law Practice of Ken Kieklak call (479) 316-0438 or contact us online.

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