Many people who leave work because they can no longer do it apply for both Social Security disability and unemployment benefits. This seems like a logical thing to do. It can also mean the difference between paying the rent and being homeless. But, as with so much else, this proposition is not as simple as it seems.
The Unavoidable Conflict
The problem with collecting unemployment benefits while also applying for Social Security disability comes down to one simple issue: to collect unemployment, you have to tell the state that you are ready, willing, and able to work. This is a requirement almost everywhere for unemployment benefits. But, when you apply for Social Security disability benefits, you are claiming the opposite: that you are not able to work.
It does not take long to see how this conflict is going to cause trouble. I have seen Social Security judges asking claimants in this situation if they were "lying to the state or lying to Social Security." While that is an unfair question, it gives you an idea of how the judge is looking at the issue.
Social Security's official position on this matter is that collecting unemployment is simply one factor for determining if a claimant is disabled. In other words, doing so is not supposed to be fatal to a claim for Social Security disability. But, official policy has a way of not lining up precisely with practical policy. As noted above, the practical effect of collecting unemployment while applying for Social Security disability is to make the the chances of getting approved much lower.
Should I Apply For Unemployment While I Wait For Social Security?
So, what is the best approach? Obviously, it would be ideal not to collect unemployment while also applying for Social Security disability. But we do not live in an ideal world. I always tell people that if you cannot pay your rent or eat without unemployment payments, go ahead and apply. At the same time, if there is anyway not to collect unemployment, that is going to be better.
There is an inherent injustice in punishing disability applicants for collecting unemployment benefits. If Social Security promptly handled disability claims, it would be alright to ask claimants to not collect unemployment. But, with Social Security currently taking years to process disability claims, it does not seem right that they should object to whatever steps a claimant takes to keep house and home together. Social Security has no answer to the simple question: what am I supposed to do while you process my application? That's bad enough, but to take the further step of punishing a claimant for claiming whatever resources are available while he or she waits is simply too much.
Bottom line: apply for unemployment benefits if you have no other choice. Know, however, it is going to make getting approved for disability that much harder.
As always, I would be glad to discuss this or any other topic with you. Never hesitate to call or email.