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Unemployment and Social Security Disability Benefits: Can You Get Both?

As the end of their unemployment benefits nears and debate over unemployment extensions continues, some people may wonder if other options are available. Also, because the application process for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits can take many months, some people ask whether it is possible to get unemployment benefits and apply for or receive SSDI benefits at the same time.

In short, the answer is yes. However, an apparent contradiction exists in applying for or receiving both unemployment benefits and SSDI benefits concurrently because, to qualify for unemployment benefits, a person must be seeking work, while to qualify for SSDI benefits, an applicant must usually prove that he or she is not able to work.

Exceptions exist, though, for people who attempted to re-enter the workforce through the Social Security Administration's Ticket to Work Program or for people who previously worked full time but now have verifiable medical restrictions that require them to work only part time.

Unemployment Eligibility

People laid off from their jobs who are currently unemployed may be eligible for unemployment benefits. According to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, an individual may qualify for unemployment benefits in Minnesota if he or she:

  • Is unemployed or has greatly-reduced hours
  • Is a U.S. citizen or is legally authorized to work in the U.S.
  • Has worked long enough to establish a benefit account
  • Is available for suitable work
  • Is actively seeking suitable work

An individual is not eligible for Minnesota unemployment benefits if he or she was fired or quit.

Social Security Disability Insurance Eligibility

To qualify for SSDI benefits, an individual must have an impairment that prevents him or her from working that also meets the Social Security Administration's definition of disability, which is different for minors and adults.

According to the Social Security Administration, an individual under age 18 is disabled if he or she has a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that:

  • Results in marked and severe functional limitations
  • Is expected to result in death or to exist continuously for longer than one year

An individual age 18 or older is disabled if he or she has a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that:

  • Results in the inability to do any substantial gainful activity
  • Is expected to result in death, or has existed or is expected to exist continuously for longer than one year

Ticket to Work Program

People already receiving SSDI benefits may attempt to re-enter the workforce through the Ticket to Work Program (TWP), which allows individuals with disabilities to test their abilities to work for at least 9 months while keeping their SSDI benefits. Participating in the TWP does not reduce an individual's SSDI benefit amount, regardless of how much he or she earns, as long as the work activity is reported and the disabling impairment continues.

If an individual joins the TWP and works for six months but then is laid off, he or she is entitled to unemployment benefits and may retain his or her SSDI benefits. In these instances, people may receive unemployment benefits and SSDI benefits at the same time.

Minnesota Unemployment and Disability Benefits

In Minnesota, people who previously worked full time but acquired a disability that prevents them from working full time also may receive both unemployment benefits and SSDI benefits. If an individual's benefit account is based on past full-time employment but he or she has a verifiable medical restriction that now permits only part-time work, he or she may receive unemployment benefits to make up the difference between full-time and part-time employment.

In addition, an individual with a disability who works part time and makes less than a certain amount may be able to apply for SSDI benefits as well. As started above, an adult's disability must prevent him or her from engaging in "substantial gainful activity," which is defined as earning less than an average of $1,000 per month for 2011. Therefore, if an individual previously worked full time but acquired a disability that allows him or her to work only part time for less than $1,000 a month, he or she may be able to apply for or receive unemployment benefits at the same time as SSDI benefits.

Importantly, in 2010, a memorandum from Chief Administrative Law Judge Frank A. Cristaudo stated that the receipt of unemployment benefits does not preclude the receipt of SSDI benefits. Instead, whether an SSDI applicant receives unemployment benefits is only one of many factors to consider when determining if he or she is disabled.

Since the application and evaluation process can be complex, the assistance of a knowledgeable Social Security Disability attorney is invaluable when applying for SSDI benefits. If you have questions about SSDI or how unemployment benefits affect a disability claim, contact an experienced Social Security Disability lawyer.