Unemployment Insurance, Social Security Retirement or Disability, Supplemental Security Income and the Coronavirus Emergency

A Fact Sheet for Blind People

Unemployment Insurance (UI) is a state/federal program that usually provides temporary, partial replacement of wages for employees who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own.  They must usually be ready, willing, able and looking for work in order to receive UI. UI is supported in part by employer contributions and has not in general covered people who are self-employed. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed in late March 2020 has made a number of changes to UI law that may benefit blind people:

  1. The CARES Act gives states flexibility to expand eligibility for UI to many workers otherwise not eligible to receive UI benefits. This includes many self-employed workers such as gig workers, independent contractors and freelancers, part-time workers, and workers without enough work history to ordinarily qualify for UI.  The worker must be “unemployed, partially unemployed, or unable or unavailable to work” for reasons related to COVID-19.  These reasons may include workplace shutdowns; quarantines; a new job was canceled or the worker can’t reach the job due to COVID-19; the worker or a household member has been diagnosed with COVID-19; the worker must care for someone with COVID-19 or for a child or other person who can’t attend school, daycare or another facility due to COVID-19; the worker has become the breadwinner for a household because the head of household has died from COVID-19; or the worker had to quit a job due to COVID-19 (but not simply as a precaution to limit exposure).  A worker is NOT eligible for UI if able to telework for pay or if receiving paid sick leave or other paid leave.  Expanded eligibility may last until December 31, 2020.
  • The Act adds $600 per week to the amount of UI payable by states through the end of July 2020.  The regular UI amount states will pay is about half of the worker’s after-tax earnings, up to a limit set state-by-state, not counting the additional $600 per week federal payment. Therefore, someone who receives UI for ten weeks during May, June, and July, for example, can receive at least $6,000 above the amount provided by the state.
  • The Act increases the number of weeks of UI eligibility. In most states, a worker can receive UI for up to 26 weeks (6 months).  The Act adds an extra 13 weeks, for a total of up to 39 weeks of UI (9 months).

Can Workers Who Receive Social Security Retirement or Disability (SSDI) Also Receive UI?

Yes.  UI payments are NOT counted as earnings. UI payments do not affect a person’s eligibility for Social Security Retirement or SSDI or the amount of Social Security Retirement or SSDI you can receive.

Is the weekly UI amount reduced due to receipt of Social Security Retirement or SSDI?

Not necessarily, but it depends on the state in which you live. Only a handful of states will offset your UI payments by the amount of Social Security received, but this is not dollar for dollar when they do.

On occasion, a UI eligibility worker may misinterpret the rules and tell you that an applicant receiving SSDI is not eligible for UI, because the applicant is not able to work.  This is patently false. Anyone denied UI due to receipt of SSDI should appeal the UI determination within the state. This is not a Social Security appeal.

What happens if a UI applicant has been receiving SSI while working?

SSI recipients who may be eligible for UI are required to apply for and receive UI benefits if approved. UI benefits reduce SSI almost dollar for dollar, so the SSI benefit will most likely be reduced to $0.  However, the amount of the UI benefits payable, especially the additional $600 weekly amount paid through July 2020, will definitely be better than just receiving SSI. But anyone who receives SSI and then starts receiving UI must report this to Social Security immediately since failure to report can result in an overpayment.

If SSI stops due to UI, eligibility for Medicaid would usually stop within several months.  However, the CARES Act extends eligibility for Medicaid through the end of the COVID-19 emergency.  When UI stops, SSI can start up again, but you need to contact Social Security for this to happen. When you do, be sure to ask if you might be eligible to receive SSDI instead. People who may eventually lose Medicaid eligibility due to working enough to lose SSI may still participate in the “Medicaid Buy-In” program which provides Medicaid to working people with disabilities.

How Can You Apply for UI?

The only way to file an application for UI is through the UI agency in your state, normally part of the state department of labor or workforce development. You can find this agency by visiting the national Career One stop webpage and following the link to file for unemployment from which you can find your state.