Q & A: June 2020

Q & A: June 2020

Should She Sign Up For Unemployment or Disability?

Q: My mom has Parkinson’s disease, but was still working until the coronavirus forced her company to shut down indefinitely.  She has applied for partial unemployment, but can she file for disability benefits?  She signed up for Medicare when she turned 65.  Would signing up for disability affect her retirement plan?  


A:  Your mom is facing some really complicated choices.  Social Security lists Parkinson’s disease in its listings of disabilities, which would mean she would qualify for disability benefits more quickly if she meets all other criteria.  However, if she is 66 or older, she would be at her full retirement age, and the Social Security Administration would find her eligible for a retirement benefit rather than disability benefits.  Disabled adults are automatically shifted to retirement benefits once they reach their full retirement age.

Filing and getting approved for disability benefits is a long and sometimes costly process that can take about 6 months or even longer.  There’s a six-month waiting period before benefits even start.

Filing for retirement benefits would be easier for your mom to qualify and to get started quickly.  People can receive either a Social Security retirement benefit or disability benefit, but not both at the same time.  Your mom could get an estimate of what her retirement benefit would be by setting up an account at www.SocialSecurity.gov.

It’s also important to note that, since your mom has applied for unemployment benefits, to qualify she will need to be “actively seeking work” and to return to the work force if she is offered a job.  On the other hand, to receive disability benefits, your mom’s Parkinson’s disease would have to be so severe that she’s totally unable to perform any meaningful work.

What your mom should also do right away is to apply for programs that can help to lower her Medicare costs.  Medicare has Savings Programs that pay the Medicare Part B premium ($144.60 per month in 2020) and, if her income is low enough, will also cover the Part B deductible and out-of-pocket costs.  She should also apply for Medicare Extra Help, which can help pay most or all of her Part D plan’s premium, deductibles, and reduce the cost of prescriptions.

Your mom can get free one-on-one counseling from a State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) counselor.  While the programs go by different names, many operate through local area agencies on aging.  Get contact info at https://www.shiptacenter.org.