If you have been approved for disability benefits because you are unable to work and earn a living, you may want to do some volunteer work. You may have concerns about whether your volunteer services will affect your disability benefits. Volunteer work may or may not affect your disability benefits, and it focuses on whether you are doing what is considered substantial work based on the Social Security Administration (SSA) guidelines.
The SSA considers work activity to be the act of performing any tasks for profit or for pay or doing the kind of work that would usually be done for pay or profit even if profit isn’t being earned. The SSA uses a test to determine if activity is substantial is if the duties meet or exceed the threshold for substantial gainful activity (SGA). The SGA limit for 2019 is $1,220 per month.
While usually, the SSA only considers the amount of income earned while working when calculating if you are working at or above the SGA level, this isn’t how it is considered when you are doing volunteer duties. If you are receiving disability benefits and you are performing volunteer services, the SSA might determine the volunteer duties that you are performing has reached the SGA level and then your disability payments will be discontinued. Based on this approach, the SSA never considers some volunteer work toward the SGA, even if some payment is received for the services.
There aren’t specific guidelines used by the SSA to decide if volunteer services can demonstrate one’s ability to work full-time. However, there are some aspects of your volunteer duties that might draw extra attention of the SSA. Here are some things that may make it evident that you can work on the SGA level:
- If you were paid for your duties, the pay would exceed the SGA level
- Your volunteer services are more than a few hours per week
- Your volunteer work indicates that you could fulfill the physical requirements at or above the SGA level or
- Your volunteer duties are being done for a small business that is owned by a family member
As an example, a man who receives disability benefits is volunteering as a mechanic for a non-profit
organization that helps with repairs for low-income families. He spends about 10 hours per week helping
at the organization. Before he was approved for disability benefits, he worked as a mechanic. The SSA
reviews his case and determines that if he were paid for his duties his income would exceed the SGA
limit. His disability benefits are discontinued because it is determined he can work at or above the SGA
Before volunteering, you should consider if the organization is a certified 501(c)(3) organizations. Those that hold this certification are recognized as “charitable” by the Internal Revenue Service and are non-profits. Volunteering at one of the organizations betters the chance that you will be doing volunteer work that does not impact your benefits. You can call the SSA at 1-800-772-1213 or visit your local SSA office if you are unsure it the volunteer work you are looking to do will be on the SGA level.
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