Will Volunteering Hurt My Social Security Disability Claim?
Many of our clients enjoy volunteering. It gives them a sense of purpose and fulfillment, and they find it very rewarding.
It’s no wonder, then, that most want to continue volunteering in some way even on Social Security Disability (SSDI). It’s why we often hear the following question: “Will volunteering hurt my Social Security Disability claim?”
The Social Security Administration (SSA) has strict rules for what it considers to be work, and no one wants to jeopardize their benefits—their livelihood.
Keep reading to find out if your volunteer work will hurt your Social Security Disability claim.
What Is Substantial Gainful Activity?
To qualify for Social Security Disability, you must have a medical condition that prevents you from working for at least one year. (You must also meet the work history requirements, but that’s a subject for another blog post.)
The SSA uses “substantial gainful activity” (or SGA) as a measure of whether or not you are working too much to qualify for SSDI. What does this mean? Let’s break it down:
- Substantial means that you are doing significant physical or mental activities. Many different types of work can qualify as substantial, even work that is part-time.
- Gainful means that you are being paid more than $1,260 per month. (That dollar amount is the threshold.) That said, you don’t have to be paid for your work to be “gainful.” If you are doing work that people would usually be paid for, that work could qualify as gainful.
If the SSA finds that you are able to do substantial gainful activity despite your disability, your SSDI claim will be rejected. (Note: SGA does not apply to blind individuals.)
Does Volunteer Work Count as Substantial Gainful Activity?
Since volunteer work is never paid, does that mean it never qualifies as substantial gainful activity?
Unfortunately, the answer is no. Volunteer work can, in fact, count as substantial gainful activity.
That’s because the SSA can use your volunteer work as evidence that you are able to work at the SGA level. If your volunteer work involves significant physical or mental activities, or your volunteer work is a job that’s usually paid, this can be evidence of substantial gainful activity.
What kinds of volunteer work could be substantial gainful activity? Here are a few hypothetical scenarios:
- You spend more than a few hours a week as a volunteer.
- Your volunteer work is physically or mentally strenuous.
- You volunteer for a family-owned business.
In these cases, the SSA could very well disqualify you from receiving benefits.
However, there are a few exceptions under the Domestic Volunteer Service Act of 1973. Volunteer work for the following programs is never considered to be SGA:
- Volunteers in Service to America
- University Year for ACTION
- Special Volunteer Programs
- Retired Senior Volunteer Program
- Foster Grandparent Program
- Service Corps of Retired Executives
- Active Corps of Executives
If you are worried that volunteering will impact your claim, or if you want to keep volunteering during the SSDI process, it’s a good idea to speak to a disability lawyer about your case.
Volunteering while Receiving Benefits
As you can see, volunteering can sometimes negatively impact an SSDI claim. But what if your claim was successful and you are already receiving SSDI benefits?
Sadly, volunteer work that qualifies as SGA can prompt the Social Security Administration to end your benefits.
Why? It’s because the SSA performs “continuing disability reviews” (CDR) to determine if you still qualify for SSDI benefits. The SSA performs these reviews at different times, depending on your age and condition. CDRs can be scheduled in advance or triggered by evidence that you have improved.
As we said above, the SSA considers some volunteer work to be substantial gainful activity. If the SSA finds that you have medically improved enough to do SGA (even if it’s just volunteer work), it will stop your benefits.
For this reason, it’s important to be sure that your volunteer work won’t interfere with your SSDI benefits. If you’re not sure whether your volunteer work qualifies as SGA, talk to a disability lawyer.
Does This Mean I Can’t Volunteer?
You can absolutely still volunteer while applying for SSDI or receiving SSDI benefits! You just need to consider your volunteer work carefully.
It would be unwise, for example, to do “volunteer work” as a secretary for your son’s business. This is work that would normally be paid, so it may trigger the SSDI to re-evaluate your claim. As another example, it would be unwise to do volunteer work shelving boxes of food at a food pantry, as the SSA could consider this significant physical work.
Instead, consider volunteering at any of the exempt programs listed above. Also, consider working with a volunteer coordinator. This person can help you find a volunteer position for a cause you support while taking your disability into account. That way, you can be sure that your skills will be utilized effectively. Finally, make sure to volunteer with an accredited organization.
Call Us Today
If you have questions about volunteering and SSDI, we would be happy to answer them. Please call Casper & Casper today to speak with a knowledgeable, experienced disability lawyer in your area.
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