What Are Temporary Disability Benefits?

Social Security doesn't help if your broken arm sidelines you from work.
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Social Security only pays disability if your condition is expected to last a year or more, or if it's expected to kill you. If injury or illness only sidelines you from work for a few months, the Social Security Administration can't help you. Workers' compensation covers you if the disability is work-based. If not, there are a few states that provide you with temporary disability support.


Temporary disability, as a government program, has its roots in 1946. That's when Congress voted to let states use some of their unemployment insurance money to help support residents who were out of work because of a short-term disability. At the time of writing, California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, New York and Hawaii have adopted disability programs, as has Puerto Rico. The railroad industry adopted its own short-term disability program under the law.


To qualify for temporary disability, you have to be unable to perform your regular job because of a temporary physical or mental condition. The state programs cover most workers in private employment, but won't cover you if you're a domestic worker or self-employed, or if your employer is your parent, child or spouse. The program excludes government employees except in Hawaii. The other four states do let government workers pay to opt into the program. All states count pregnancy as a temporary disability.


In most cases, you can't qualify for benefits until you've earned a certain amount over the years, or been at work for a long enough period. The exact terms are set by each state. If you're disabled but have other money coming in, your benefits may be cut. In New Jersey, for instance, if you get sick leave plus disability, it can't add up to more than your regular wages did. No state lets you get disability if you're receiving unemployment payments at the same time.

Other Options

Even if your state doesn't provide short-term disability benefits, your employer may offer it. Duke University, for instance, allows you to buy short-term disability coverage paying up to 60 percent of your regular salary. This helps out employees who haven't accumulated much sick leave. If your employer isn't including it in your benefits, you may be able to buy a policy as an individual. Coverage is hard to find and expensive. Workplace group policies are a better bet.

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