The other major policy issue that derailed the emergency [unemployment] benefits program was a proposal to curtail the joint receipt of unemployment insurance and disability benefits. Reid included a proposal from President Obama's budget to do that. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, had his own proposal, which he said would merely "[end] double-dipping between unemployment and disability benefits," and that it's "in the president's budget." As my CBPP [Center for Budget and Policy Priorities] colleague Paul Van de Water points out, however, the Portman proposal would go well beyond merely ending "double-dipping" and is far different from the president's proposal.
To receive disability benefits, an applicant must have a severe impairment that has prevented him or her from engaging in "substantial gainful activity," defined as earning more than $1,070 a month, for at least five months. In other words, it allows a recipient to work a modest amount, and thus be exposed to a job loss that would legitimately qualify the recipient for unemployment insurance.
The Portman proposal would define receiving unemployment insurance as a substantial gainful activity that, as Van de Water explains, would not only prevent people from receiving both benefits simultaneously – what Portman calls "double-dipping" – but would also delay eligibility for both disability and
Medicarefor some people with serious disabilities and hasten benefit losses for others.
The Reid/Obama proposal is quite different from Portman's – and far preferable. It would eliminate "double-dipping" by reducing disability benefits dollar-for-dollar by the amount a person receives in unemployment benefits. In effect, a person who was legitimately eligible for both sets of benefits could receive the higher of the two – but not both.