Can I do volunteer work and qualify for Social Security disability?

You ask an important question that’s essential to answer before you start volunteering. You may be looking for something to do with your time, or you may want to continue supporting a favorite cause, but before you volunteer, you need to know whether your unpaid work could impact your Social Security disability eligibility.

What Type of Volunteer Work Will You Do?

The Social Security Administration is only concerned with one thing when it comes to your philanthropic activities. The agency wants to know if the work that you are doing would Group of Volunteers Packing Foodbe considered substantial gainful activity if you were paid for it.

Since you aren’t paid, the Social Security Administration must consider factors other than your income when deciding if the work rises to the level of substantial gainful activity. Some of the things the agency will consider when making this determination include:

  • How often you volunteer. If you volunteer more than a few hours a week, then the Social Security Administration may assume that you can get a paying job.
  • The value of your volunteer work. If you were paid a fair wage for volunteering and that wage would exceed the substantial gainful activity level, then the Social Security Administration may decide that you can work.
  • The physical requirements of your volunteer work. If the job requires a lot of lifting, walking, or other strenuous activity, then you may be able to work at a paying job.
  • Whether the work you do is typically paid work or volunteer work. Suppose you volunteer for a for-profit business or for a family member’s business and someone else would be paid for the work. In that case, the Social Security Administration may conclude that your lack of pay is only so that you can keep receiving disability benefits. However, if your work is typically done on a volunteer basis, then the Social Security Administration may come to a different conclusion.

Is Your Volunteer Work Exempt?

Certain types of volunteer work will not trigger a review by the Social Security Administration and may not be considered evidence that you can engage in substantial gainful activity.

If you volunteer for a program included in the Domestic Volunteer Service Act, then the Social Security Administration may not consider your volunteer work when deciding whether you are disabled. Some of these exempt volunteer opportunities include:

  • Volunteers in Service to America
  • University Year for Action
  • Special Volunteer Program
  • Retired Senior Volunteer Program
  • Foster Grandparent Program
  • Service Corps of Retired Executives
  • Active Corps of Executives

Similarly, if you serve on a board, advisory committee, or commission for a group created by the Federal Advisory Committee Act, then the Social Security Administration will not consider your volunteer work unless you are volunteering as part of a paid job.

Generally, if you are volunteering for one of the groups described above or a certified 501(c)(3) non-profit group in a way that is consistent with your disabilities and that does not indicate to the Social Security Administration that you can work, then volunteering can be a great thing. You may be happier and less anxious if you are doing volunteer work that you enjoy.

Do You Have Other Questions About Social Security Disability Eligibility?

Your disability has changed so much about your life. Social Security disability provides important financial benefits if you have a permanent or life-ending disability, and you can’t work. Initial and continued Social Security disability eligibility is often confusing, and a simple mistake or miscommunication could put a stop to your benefits.

Our experienced Social Security disability lawyers don’t want this to happen to you. Instead, we want to make sure that you continue to do your volunteer work while getting the Social Security disability benefits that you’ve earned.

If you have any questions about whether you are eligible for benefits or if you need to appeal the Social Security Administration’s denial of your benefits, please contact our Boston-area Social Security disability attorneys today for a free consultation.

 

John L. Keefe
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Founding Attorney, Massachusetts Social Security Disability Lawyer