Temporary Disability Insurance

Social Security Bulletin, January 1, 2000 | Go to article overview

Temporary Disability Insurance


Five states, Puerto Rico, and the railroad industry have social insurance programs that partially compensate for the loss of wages caused by temporary nonoccupational disability or maternity. These programs are known as temporary disability insurance (TDI) because the duration of the payments is limited.

Federal law does not provide for a federal-state system of short-term disability comparable to the federal-state system of unemployment insurance. However, the Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA) was amended in 1946 to permit states where employees made contributions under the unemployment insurance program to use some or all of these contributions for the payment of disability benefits (but not for administration). Three of the nine states that could have benefited by this provision for initial funding for temporary disability insurance took advantage of it: California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. The first state law was enacted by Rhode Island in 1942, followed by legislation in California and the railroad industry in 1946. New Jersey in 1948, and New York in 1949. Then came a hiatus of two decades before Puerto Rico and Hawaii passed laws in 1968 and 1969, respectively.

The five state temporary disability insurance laws and the Puerto Rico law cover most commercial and industrial wage-and-salary workers in private employment if the employer has at least one worker. In no state is coverage under TDI identical with that of the unemployment insurance program. Principal occupational groups excluded are domestic workers, family workers (parent, child, or spouse of the employer), government employees, and the self-employed. State and local government employees are included in Hawaii, and the other state programs generally provide elective coverage for some or all-public employees.

Agricultural workers are covered to varying degrees in California, Hawaii, New Jersey, and Puerto Rico, but they are not covered in other jurisdictions. The California law permits self-employed individuals to elect coverage on a voluntary basis. Workers employed by railroads, railroad associations, and railroad unions are covered by temporary disability insurance under the national system included in the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act.

The methods used for providing this protection vary. In Rhode Island, the coverage is provided through an exclusive, state-operated fund into which all contributions are paid and from which all benefits are disbursed. In addition, a covered employer may provide supplemental benefits in any manner he or she chooses. The railroad program is also exclusively publicly operated in conjunction with its unemployment insurance provisions.

In California, New Jersey, and Puerto Rico, coverage is provided through a state-operated fund, but employers are permitted to "contract out" of the state fund by purchasing group insurance from commercial insurance companies, by self-insuring, or by negotiating an agreement with a union or employees' association. Coverage by the state fund is automatic unless or until an employer or the employees take positive action by substituting a private plan that meets the standards prescribed in the law and is approved by the administering agency. Premiums (in lieu of contributions) are then paid directly to the private plan, and benefits are paid to the workers affected.

The Hawaii and New York laws require employers to provide their own disability insurance plans for their workers-by setting up an approved self-insurance plan, by an agreement with employees or a union establishing a labor-management benefit plan, or by purchasing group insurance from a commercial carrier. In New York, the employer may also provide protection through the State Insurance Fund, which is a state-operated competitive carrier. Both Hawaii and New York operate special funds to pay benefits to workers who become disabled while unemployed or whose employers have failed to provide the required protection. …

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