There is no doubt that the current pandemic has caused anxiety for millions of people all over the world. In the US alone, over 44 million people have filed for unemployment, with almost every industry being affected.
For those with disabilities, it has been a particularly distressing time, especially as there has been a great deal of uncertainty surrounding eligibility for pandemic unemployment assistance (PUA). In Wisconsin, after months of unease, it has finally been confirmed that disability benefit claimants will be able to access PUA.
PUA and SSDI in Wisconsin
On July 27, 2020, the US Department of Labor confirmed a reversal of the decision to exclude Wisconsinites who claimed Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits from also receiving the unemployment benefits allotted by the CARES Act.
Under guidelines introduced in 2013, SSDI benefits recipients in Wisconsin are not eligible for unemployment insurance. This legislation, combined with a lack of clarity provided by the wording in the CARES Act, meant that initially, those who claim disability benefits in Wisconsin were unable to access pandemic unemployment assistance.
The SSDI program is designed to support individuals who are unable to work full-time or to hold “substantial gainful” employment as a result of their disability. When possible, those receiving benefits are still encouraged to hold limited or part-time jobs. Individuals are still eligible for SSDI benefits as long as they earn less than $1,260 per month.
When the COVID-19 outbreak hit the US earlier this year, there was widespread concern among Wisconsin residents who claim SSDI due to the state’s traditional regulations preventing them from accessing unemployment assistance. Many were left without the necessary income from their jobs while also remaining ineligible for PUA.
After several weeks of citizens working with attorneys to appeal the decision to exclude disability benefits recipients, the US Department of Labor confirmed that the decision would be reversed, paving the way for those in receipt of SSDI to gain additional financial assistance through PUA.
Assistance for SSDI Recipients in Wisconsin
The letter from the US Department of Labor dated July 27, 2020 states that SSDI recipients who are either unemployed or unable to work as a result of criteria linked to COVID-19 outlined in the CARES Act will now be eligible for support through pandemic unemployment assistance.
In Wisconsin, those who are now able to claim financial assistance will be granted retrospective payments backdated to either the week ending February 8, 2020, or the first week the individual was out of the work. The latest of these two dates will be selected.
A press release published by the Department of Workforce Development stated that there had been an “interpretation” which prevented SSDI benefits recipients from accessing unemployment assistance programs put in place to support people through the pandemic. The decision to allow access to this fund will enable those who claim SSDI to benefit from financial assistance while they are unable to work or their incomes have been reduced as a result of the coronavirus crisis.
Wisconsin’s governor has now proposed additional legislation that would allow SSDI recipients to receive unemployment assistance beyond that designated for pandemic use. Those affected by this potential legislation, including Wisconsin residents receiving benefits and Social Security disability attorneys, should stay tuned in to this issue and watch out for future updates from the state government.