Making Justice Real

The Official Blog of the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia

Legal Aid Client Featured in Senator Tom Harkin Floor Speech

Yesterday, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) spoke out against proposed cuts to Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits for people who also qualify for unemployment compensation. The cuts are part of a proposed amendment to a bill that would otherwise extend the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program, which expired just three days after Christmas 2013 and left hundreds of thousands of long-unemployed individuals without benefits. This amendment was offered as a way of saving money by slashing SSDI dollar-for-dollar when a person with disabilities also qualifies for unemployment benefits.

In his remarks, Senator Harkin also told Henry’s story.

Henry* was my client. He is a real person with disabilities who relies on wages from a part-time job in order to live independently. Henry also receives Social Security disability insurance, which is based on FICA taxes he paid during past work.

When Henry came to Legal Aid, he had lost his part-time job. Fortunately, he was qualified to receive unemployment benefits, temporary safety-net benefits for workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own. While his unemployment check was only half of his past wages, it allowed Henry to continue living independently while he looked for appropriate part-time work.

Henry’s story—and the stories of 117,000 other Americans with disabilities who lawfully receive unemployment benefits—too often get lost in these debates.

Legal Aid applauds Senator Harkin for setting the record straight for workers who receive SSDI and unemployment. These individuals are not “double-dipping”—their past wages have lawfully qualified them for both programs. As Senator Harkin explained, “We have to extend unemployment benefits but not at the expense of the people who are on the lowest rung of our ladder—people with disabilities, who have paid into the system, and who have become unemployed.”

* Name changed to protect the client’s identity.

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