I was laid off and haven’t been able to find work since then due to a bad back, diabetes, bursitis of the knee, and carpal tunnel in both wrists. Can I apply for Social Security disability while collecting unemployment benefits?
It can be a problem to collect unemployment benefits while applying for Social Security disability benefits because, when you file for unemployment benefits, you are saying you are willing and able to work, but when you apply for disability benefits, you are saying that you can’t work, for at least a year. Officially, Social Security says that collecting unemployment benefits is not a bar to being approved for disability benefits, but collecting unemployment benefits is a factor that administrative law judges (ALJs) can consider when they’re deciding your disability case.
Disability judges usually know when you’re collecting unemployment benefits because Social Security has access to unemployment benefit information and usually includes it in your claims file. Some judges do not like to see that disability applicants are collecting unemployment benefits no matter what the circumstance. Other judges will deny your disability claim only if you received unemployment after you applied for disability benefits, unless you can prove your condition medically worsened since you applied for unemployment benefits. Other judges simply will not pay you disability benefits for the time period that you were receiving unemployment (they may ask you to amend your disability onset date). Still others don’t care even if you’re receiving unemployment benefits at the time of your hearing. These judges realize that people need income to live on, and that there is no guarantee that disability benefits will be granted after the long process of applying for benefits.
In addition, in many states, you can collect unemployment even if you are ony looking for part-time work. Disability applicants are allowed to work a limited amount of time, and in these states, you are you are not necessarily telling the employment department that you are available to work full time. (But note that in Texas, Georgia, and a few other states, you can apply for unemployment benefits only if you're ready and willing to work full time.)
What should you do? To be safe, especially in the few states where filing an application for unemployment means you’re saying you’re available to work full time, some disablity applicants wait to apply for disability benefits until their unemployment benefits run out. Others change the date they say they became disabled (their “alleged onset date”) until after their unemployment benefits have stopped. (However, by doing this, you could be giving up a large sum of money, so it’s best to talk about this with a disability lawyer before deciding to amend your disability onset date.)
If you have collected unemployment benefits and you attend an appeal hearing, be prepared to explain why you’re collecting unemployment benefits, or why you collected them recently. The judge may ask what jobs you applied for while you were collecting unemployment (and will be checking if they were similar to your old job). If the jobs were ones that your stated limitations say you aren’t capable of doing (for instance, a job requiring heavy lifting), you may have a problem. You may want to offer to amend your alleged onset date to a date after you stopped collecting unemployment benefits.
Likewise, if you applied for a full-time desk job but are telling the judge you can’t sustain any full-time work, you may also have a problem. You could argue that you probably could not have been able to sustain full-time work for more than a few weeks without great pain or other symptoms or without getting fired. As federal judges have stated in the past, “A desire to work does not mean that a claimant can actually work," and “Receipt of unemployment insurance benefits does not prove ability to work.”
If you have a valid argument that there is no legal conflict between your collecting unemployment benefits and disability benefits, tell the judge. Here are some examples:
If you applied for full-time jobs while you were collecting unemployment or you applied for jobs that were more demanding than your physical and mental limitations allow for, it’s best to talk about this with a disability lawyer, especially if you are thinking about amending your onset date to after you stopped collecting unemployment benefits.