What You Need to Know About Filing for Unemployment and Social Security Disability at the Same Time

You’re facing two problems if you’re disabled and unemployed.

First, the necessary paperwork can take months, or even years, before you ever see a disability check. That’s assuming you are eligible for disability in the first place.

Second, retroactive benefits do not pay the bills you have coming due today.

Unemployment benefits are typically processed much faster, and they may look like an attractive way to tide you over while you wait for your first disability check to arrive.

But can you collect unemployment and social security disability benefits at the same time in Pennsylvania?

Or, can you get unemployment while on social security disability in Pennsylvania?

The answer to both questions is a qualified “yes!”

In Pennsylvania, you can collect both unemployment and social security disability benefits under the right circumstances.

The Inherent Conflict Between Disability and Unemployment

The problem that arises when you try to collect disability and unemployment at the same time is that you run into a potential conflict.

To remain eligible for unemployment benefits, Pennsylvania requires you to be willing and able to work; yet to obtain Social Security disability benefits, you must be unable to work.

Although the conflict between the unemployment and disability standards might seem like an unresolvable contradiction, loopholes do exist. If you find one of them, you can collect both unemployment and social security disability benefits.

You are likely to need the assistance of a skilled Pennsylvania disability lawyer, such as those available to you at Krasno Krasno & Onwudinjo, to guide you through the bureaucratic maze. After all, exploiting loopholes is what lawyers do best!  

Eligibility for Unemployment Benefits in Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania (PA) Department of Labor and Industry Office of Unemployment Compensation administers the unemployment compensation program. To receive unemployment benefits, you must meet standard eligibility requirements.

Standard Eligibility Requirements

To meet the minimum eligibility requirements for unemployment benefits in Pennsylvania, you must:

  • Have earned a certain (very low) minimum amount during your “base period;” the first four of the five most recently completed three-month quarters before you applied for unemployment.
  • Be unemployed through no fault of your own. In certain cases, you can remain eligible even if you quit your job or were fired. But, in most cases, quitting or getting fired renders you ineligible for unemployment benefits.
  • Be willing and able to work, and you must be looking for a job. In certain situations, however, you can remain eligible for partial unemployment benefits even while working part-time. You will have to prove that you are looking for work during the entire time that you receive benefits.

Meeting the standard eligibility requirements is just the starting point, however.

Ultimately, your application will be approved or denied based on the circumstances of your individual case. Pennsylvania will take into consideration whether approving your application will allow you to collect unemployment and disability at the same time.

Eligibility for Federal Social Security Disability Benefits (SSI and SSDI)

There are two types of federal disability benefits; SSDI (Social Security Disability) and SSI (Supplemental Security Income). Both of these programs impose both medical and financial requirements in order to be eligible for disability benefits.

Medical Requirements for Disability

To qualify for disability benefits under either SSDI or SSI you must meet all of the following requirements:

  • You must suffer from a disability that is classified as “severe.” It must substantially limit your ability to perform basic activities required at most jobs such as standing, sitting, and remembering; and
  • Your condition must have persisted, or be expected to persist, for at least a year; and
  • Your condition must either (i) meet the requirements of a Social Security impairment listing as published by the Social Security Administration, or (ii) render it impossible for you to either return to any of your previous occupations or work in a less demanding job.

Financial Requirements for Social Security Disability

The SSA imposes different financial requirements on eligibility for SSDI and SSI:

  • You must meet certain standards concerning your work history. A 55-year old, for example, must have worked at least eight years during his working lifetime, five of which must have been during the last ten years. These standards vary according to age.
  • To be eligible for SSDI, you must not be involved in “substantial gainful activity,” which means that you are not eligible for disability benefits if you earn at least $1,220 per month (as of 2019).
  • To become eligible for SSI you don’t need any work history, but you must meet very low family asset and income maximums.

Potential Legal Loopholes that May Allow You to Collect Unemployment and Social Security Disability

The following are some examples of potential loopholes that might allow you to collect unemployment and disability benefits at the same time. Whether or not any given loophole will ultimately succeed is not cut and dried.

Instead, each of these options varies in its feasibility depending on your particular circumstances, and they carry varying degrees of legal risk. They are listed below in ascending order of legal risk (the safest alternative first).

The SSDI Ticket to Work Program

If you are already receiving SSDI benefits and you believe that you may be able to work despite your disability, you can join the SSA Ticket to Work Program (TWP).

Entry into the TWP will allow you to work for at least nine months while retaining full SSDI benefits. If you work for at least six months but are laid off, you are eligible to collect unemployment and disability benefits at the same time.

The SSA “Grid Rule”

The SSA “grid rule” provides several possible loopholes, including:

  • If you are over 50 years old and your disability prevents you from performing any type of work other than sedentary work, and if you have been seeking sedentary work while collecting unemployment, you remain eligible for both unemployment and disability. Certain exceptions apply; you could be denied disability benefits if you are still capable of performing your old job, for example.
  • If you are over 55 years old and you are only capable of performing “light” work, and if you have been seeking “light” work while collecting unemployment benefits, you may remain eligible for both Social Security disability and unemployment.

The Social Security Disability Impairment Listing Loophole

If you meet the requirements of a Social Security disability impairment listing, the SSA will assume that you cannot work, and you will not have to prove you cannot work in order to become eligible for Social Security disability benefits.

This might allow you to collect unemployment and disability at the same time, although you would need to explain the situation clearly to both Federal and Pennsylvania authorities.

The potential problem here is that the conditions listed in the impairment listing are typically so severe that you may not be able to work anyway, thereby rendering you ineligible for unemployment benefits.

The Limited Employment Eligibility Loophole

If, while collecting unemployment benefits, you are searching for work that is within the limitations of your disability, you might be able to convince an examiner or an administrative law judge to allow you to collect both unemployment and disability benefits.

You might also be able to collect disability and unemployment benefits by searching only for jobs that would require the employer to make special accommodations for your disability that most employers would be unwilling to make.

The “Substantial Gainful Activity” Loophole

If you work but earn less than $1,220 per month, you will be eligible for disability and partial unemployment benefits.

The potential problem with this approach, other than the reduction in the amount of your unemployment benefits, is that Pennsylvania will require you to continue seeking full-time work, yet your disability payments are based on the assumption that your disability prevents you from working full-time.

The Discretion of Disability and Unemployment Examiners and Administrative Law Judges

Can you collect unemployment and social security disability benefits by relying on persuasive advocacy in front of an examiner or an administrative law judge?

It is certainly possible.

After all, some of the foregoing loopholes rely on legal interpretations that have never before been tested in court.

In cases such as these, administrative law judges enjoy broad discretion in agreeing or disagreeing that you can collect unemployment and social security disability simultaneously.

Even if the interpretation of the law that you are advancing appears to be supported by precedent (results in previous cases), an administrative law judge enjoys a certain amount of discretion in interpreting the meaning of these cases, and he may disagree with your conclusion that you can collect unemployment and disability. Different judges may view your argument in different ways.

Ultimately, the persuasive abilities of your lawyer can be critically important.

Legal Consequences of Disability and Unemployment Fraud

Above all, be honest. You don’t want to play games with state or federal law, and you certainly don’t want to misrepresent or conceal any fact that might be relevant in determining your eligibility for disability and unemployment.

In a worst-case scenario you could be charged with a felony, imprisoned for five years and fined $250,000. Civil penalties are even more likely; fines and reimbursement for improper disability and unemployment benefits already paid to you, for example.

Glossary of Technical Terms

  • Base period: The first four of the five most recently completed three-month quarters before you applied for unemployment. This is used to determine eligibility for Pennsylvania unemployment benefits.
  • SSDI (Social Security Disability): A federal disability benefits program for workers who have accumulated sufficient lifetime and recent work credits to qualify for disability benefits.
  • SSI: (Supplemental Security Income): A federal disability benefits program for people who have not earned enough work credits to qualify for SSDI, but qualify for disability benefits based on financial need.
  • Social Security Impairment Listing: A listing of certain medical conditions, along with specified severity of symptoms, clinical findings, and laboratory tests, that the SSA assumes cause total disability, without looking into the question of whether you are actually able to work. These conditions include lung cancer, chronic heart failure and bipolar disorder.

Contact Krasno Krasno & Onwudinjo to Find Out if You Can Collect Unemployment and Social Security Disability at the Same Time

At Krasno Krasno & Onwudinjo, we handle all Social Security Disability and unemployment benefits cases on a contingency basis.

In other words, our legal services are free unless we obtain benefits for you. If you are a resident of Pennsylvania and you are having difficulty obtaining unemployment and disability benefits, let us help you obtain the benefits you deserve.

If you want to know whether you can collect unemployment and social security disability at the same time, act now to set up your free, no-obligation consultation — call (844) 243-4823, fill out our online intake form or visit one of our 12 office locations throughout Pennsylvania.