Capitol Hill Hearings, Proposed Legislation Target Dual Collection of SSDI and Unemployment

kanu101 [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)], via FlickrSocial Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) has gained a fair amount of attention in recent months, as the U.S. Congress finally begins to take notice of some serious problems that it and other Social Security benefit programs are facing. The general consensus is that the SSDI Trust Fund, from which the Social Security Administration (SSA) disburses disability benefit payments, will run out of money by the end of 2016. Without further action by Congress, this could result in cuts of up to 20 percent in benefit payments. SSDI beneficiaries and claimants, as well as the disability attorneys who advocate for their rights in Maine and elsewhere around the country, eagerly await some positive news on this issue.

Much of the attention Congressional leaders have given to the SSDI program, however, focuses on details like alleged fraud among some beneficiaries, rather than the bigger picture. Congress has held numerous hearings on the issue of beneficiaries who receive payments from both SSDI and federal or state unemployment insurance programs. Several bills currently pending in the House of Representatives and the Senate would limit people’s ability to receive benefits from both sources, despite valid reasons that they might do so.

SSDI versus Unemployment

Unemployment benefits are financed through payroll taxes collected by state and federal agencies, and they are administered by state agencies, such as the Maine Unemployment Insurance Program and the New Hampshire Employment Security program. These programs support people who are temporarily out of work while they look for a new job. Benefits are restricted to a relatively brief time period, usually six months or less.

Receiving SSDI and unemployment benefits might seem unusual at first glance. To receive SSDI, a claimant must demonstrate that they are unable to perform work at a level that constitutes “substantial gainful activity.” Unemployment benefits, on the other hand, typically require both the willingness and ability to work. Past administrative and judicial decisions, from the SSA to the U.S. Supreme Court, indicate that receiving benefits from multiple, seemingly contradictory sources is permissible in many situations.

Why People Might Receive Both Types of Benefits

People might receive benefits from both SSDI and an unemployment insurance program for a wide range of reasons that are not fraudulent, such as:

– A person who could work if they receive accommodations for a disability, but the nature of the accommodation they need makes it impractical or impossible for them to find work; or
– A person who fits into a particular vocational profile in the SSA’s grid rules based on the person’s age, education, and experience, and who cannot transfer to other types of work.

Other statutes, like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), often also play a role in this issue.

Existing Law on Receiving SSDI and Unemployment Benefits

The SSA has held that the receipt of unemployment benefits does not automatically disqualify a claimant for SSDI benefits. The SSA’s Chief Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) instructed all SSA ALJs in 2010 to “look at the totality of the circumstances” in each case, noting that “individuals need not choose between applying for unemployment insurance and Social Security Disability benefits.” (Social Security Memorandum 10-1258)

Social Security Ruling 00-1c, issued in 2000, formed the basis for these ALJ memoranda. It held that a person may qualify for SSDI benefits while also receiving relief under the ADA. Much like unemployment, ADA relief requires the ability to work. This ruling was based on the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1999 ruling in Cleveland v. Policy Management Systems Corp.

Recent Congressional Actions

Several Congressional committees have held hearings in recent months on overlaps in payments received from the SSDI program and state unemployment insurance programs. Two bills are currently pending in Congress that would affect people’s ability to receive benefits from both sources, sometimes drastically.

– The Reducing Overlapping Payments Act, S. 343, introduced in the U.S. Senate on February 3, 2015, states that a person who has reached retirement age, currently defined as 65 or 66 years old, and who is eligible for both SSDI and unemployment benefits during a given month, shall have their SSDI, and certain Social Security retirement benefits, reduced to zero for that month. Other language in the bill suggests that the intent is to prevent the receipt of benefits from multiple sources, but the language of this section seems to focus on eligibility for benefits, not actual receipt of them. The bill was pending in the Senate Finance Committee as of early July 2015.
– The Social Security Disability Insurance and Unemployment Benefits Double Dip Elimination Act, H.R. 918 / S. 499, introduced in both houses of Congress on February 12, 2015, would amend the definition of “disability” for the purposes of the SSDI program, found at 42 U.S.C. § 423(d), to state that the receipt of unemployment benefits constitutes substantial gainful activity. This would make many people who receive unemployment benefits ineligible for SSDI benefits. The SSA’s Office of the Chief Actuary has estimated that the law would reduce total benefit payments by the SSA, including SSDI benefits, by $5.7 billion from 2015 through 2024, and would reduce the actuarial deficit by a mere 0.1 percent. As of early July 2015, the bills are pending before the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee.

To schedule a free and confidential consultation to get started on your SSDI claim, contact the Law Offices of Russell J. Goldsmith today at 1-800-773-8622.

More Blog Posts:

How to Apply for SSDI Benefits in Maine and Beyond, Social Security Disability Lawyer Blog, July 1, 2015

What is SSDI? An Overview for Residents of Massachusetts and Other States, Social Security Disability Lawyer Blog, June 24, 2015

Qualifying for Social Security Disability Insurance, Social Security Disability Lawyer Blog, June 17, 2015

Photo credit: kanu101 [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr.