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Unemployment, disability: What is my disabled sister eligible for?

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Q. My sister is 69 years old. She worked at a casino for 27 years but she’s now on temporary disability. She has used up her Family and Medical Leave Act time. Because she has been sick she has used up her FMLA. She collects Social Security. Can she get unemployment or other benefits? Also, she can’t afford her condo anymore — I want her to move in with me — but she owes $60,000 on the mortgage and $40,000 for home improvements with a program with the county. What are her options?
— Sister

A. We’re sorry that your sister is having health issues.

There are several possibilities for her to consider.

First, in New Jersey, you can collect both Social Security and unemployment benefits, said Jeanne Kane, a certified financial planner with JFL Total Wealth Management in Boonton.

“The good news is that Social Security does not count unemployment benefits as income,” she said. “So if your sister is eligible for both, the unemployment benefit will not affect her retirement benefits.”

However, your sister will need to qualify for both, and this may be challenging given her current health.

For unemployment, workers who leave for personal reasons or are fired may or may not be eligible for benefits.

“If your sister quits her job, then she may or may not qualify. Same holds true if she is fired,” Kane said. “A claims examiner will reach out to her to determine if her leaving the job was `due to good cause connected with the work’ and in the case of being fired, the reason.”

From your description, she’s in failing health and can no longer work. Unfortunately, she would need to be actively looking for a job and be able to do that job to qualify for benefits, Kane said.

Also to qualify, there are minimum earnings requirements that need to be earned during a specified period of time called the base year, Kane said. Her earnings will also determine how much she’d be eligible for in benefits.

On Social Security, while she may be considered disabled due to her failing health, she wouldn’t be able to collect both Social Security Disability Benefits (SSDI) and her Social Security retirement income benefits at the same time, Kane said.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) would also have extra qualification considerations because she is older than 65, she said. It is difficult to qualify for SSDI and being over 65, it would be more challenging, she said.

It’s possible your sister may be eligible for Medicaid, which provides health coverage for low-income senior citizens.

“If she qualifies, Medicaid can help with assistance for in-home care as well as facility based long term care,” she said. If your sister can’t live on her own, she’s going to need help even if she lives with you. If you are planning to be her caregiver, be careful with this as you are signing on to something that can result in being a caregiver for years.”

Your sister may also be eligible for the Personal Preference Program (PPP) which can allow her to select someone, including you, to help with non-emergency healthcare related tasks, Kane said.

In terms of her condo, she can sell it and come live with you.

“The housing market is very strong right now,” Kane said. “Interest rates are incredibly low and people are looking to buy first and even second homes.”

If your sister owes less than the condo is worth, she can use the profit to go towards her care and to help you out with expenses, Kane said.

Through all of this, you and your sister should meet with an estate planning attorney or Medicaid expert because there are a lot of complicated issues that you need to be aware of before you do anything.

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This story was originally published on July 29, 2021.

NJMoneyHelp.com presents certain general financial planning principles and advice, but should never be viewed as a substitute for obtaining advice from a personal professional advisor who understands your unique individual circumstances.