Disability hinders a person’s capability to work, thus restricting their earning potential either completely or partially. Therefore, the question that whether such individuals qualify for unemployment benefits is quite a valid one. However, the reason disabled personnel is often denied these benefits is that they are already entitled to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) by the State.
However, because of the pandemic, there has been a relaxation in the rules which has eased simultaneous gain of benefits under the heads of SSDI and Unemployment. Covid-19 has affected the livelihoods of many people, therefore the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act was established. This Act extended the boundaries of eligibility criteria regarding unemployment aid.
Although before the pandemic it was not impossible, neither illegal to obtain both the benefits at the same time, but it was generally very difficult to qualify for one if you were already receiving the other. The reason being that categorizing as an “unemployed individual” reflects the fact that you are out of work but willing and able to resume as soon as you find a job, whereas qualifying for “disability benefits” generally means that one is unable to work and must therefore be compensated. Thus, the individual rightfully needed to justify his/her case explaining why they were eligible for both forms of aid if they wished to apply for dual benefits.
Partially disabled individuals might be able to work for lesser hours or perform limited tasks, thus SSDI encourages such people to work part-time if they come across any opportunity matching their ability. Disabled personnel is eligible for receiving SSDI benefits along with their earnings until and unless they are not involved in “substantial gainful activity”. Substantial gainful activity is defined by Social Security as any activity that allows your income to exceed $1260/month.
This scenario might be one example where unemployment benefits can be availed alongside SSDI. However, the laws in some US states deprived disabled individuals of this opportunity by including the condition that to be eligible for unemployment benefits, one must be available for resuming full-time work as soon as it becomes available.
The CARES Act passed on 27th March 2020, emerged as a ray of hope with the introduction of programs such as the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) which provides unemployment benefits to those who previously might not have qualified for them, including disabled part-time employees who earn less than a certain amount. Furthermore, receiving these benefits won’t have any effect on the beneficiary’s SSDI as unemployment-related assistance won’t be counted as one’s income, and hence not included in the substantial gainful activity.
The need for simultaneously granting benefits under the heads of SSDI and Unemployment, Covid-19 and its adverse impact on the financial condition of families, and the lay-offs it has resulted in, seem to be disregarded by certain states like Wisconsin, which denied unemployment benefits to beneficiaries of SSDI who lost their part-time jobs during the pandemic.
North Carolina held a similar stance but allowed the receipt of unemployment benefits to beneficiaries of SSDI in March 2020 after PUA was announced under the federal CARES Act.
Besides PUA, the CARES Act also introduced other programs to assist the unemployed during tough financial times brought about by Covid-19. Below is a summary of the popular modes of assistance this Act announced and the recent amendments made to these programs.
3 Main Unemployment Assistance Programs launched under the CARES Act
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)
This program provides financial assistance to individuals who have lost their job or whose earnings fall below a certain limit, but are ineligible for receiving unemployment benefits under pre-existing state laws due to reasons such as insufficient work experience, or pursuing part-time jobs.
Under the PUA program, such individuals may qualify for receiving aid after Covid-19 if the cause of their unemployment or reduced earning ability matches one of the reasons listed in the CARES Act. This is the very program that has allowed many SSID beneficiaries to qualify for unemployment benefits.
Originally, PUA benefits were only announced to last till December 2021 but after the sanctioning of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA), which was signed on March 11, 2021, these benefits have been extended till September 6, 2021.
Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC)
FPUC announced an additional $600/week payment to recipients of PUA as well as to those who qualified for unemployment benefits before the announcement of PUA to help them respond to the deteriorating economic condition. This program was to end on July 31, 2020, but, just like PUA, it has been extended under the American Rescue Plan. However, the amount to be granted has been reduced to $300/week.
Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Benefits (PEUB)
Besides the two above-mentioned programs, the CARES Act also extended the eligibility period for regular unemployment benefits by 13 weeks under the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Benefits (PEUB). Even these have been extended up to 53 weeks under ARPA and the program like all others is now expected to last till September 6, 2021.
Besides these three programs, the CARES Act launched many other incentives concerning Covid-19 such as granting the state’s funding to promote work-share programs instead of lay-offs. Although the CARES program was the government’s initial response to the pandemic, ARPA is the recent and revised version of unemployment and other benefits you may be entitled to receive given the ongoing waves of Covid-19.