Can I volunteer and still receive disability benefits?

Making the change from working from full time to not at all can quickly lose its charm after a few weeks. It’s hard to adjust and you may find that you have nothing to do or that you are no longer able to contribute to your family or your community. Volunteering a few hours per week can do wonders to keep you active and stimulated.

The thing to keep in mind is the amount of time and level of work of the volunteer activities. Certainly a few hours a month is nothing that will change or stop your benefits, but there Social Security Administration (SSA) does have guidelines. Your volunteer activities have to be less than what the SSA considers substantial gainful activity (SGA). Substantial refers to the physical or mental needs required by your work. Gainful is the SSA’s minimum income limit of $1,130 per mouth. Basic need activities, such as cooking, cleaning, mental or physical therapy, or social activities are not considered SGA.

The SSA considers the follow volunteer work to be over the SGA limit:

  • Work that is on a physical or mental level of a paid job
  • Work at a company owned by a relative
  • Work that you spend more than a few hours a week at
  • Work where your wages would be higher than the SGA limit if you were paid

If you engage in any of this type of activity, the SSA may feel you are able to work full or part time, and take away your benefits, because they believe work ability to work volunteer based shows a clear capability to support yourself without disability. However, even with paid work, the SSA offers a nine-month trial period where you can earn higher than SGA limit and still receive benefits. At the end of the nine months, you will have to decide whether or not you feel you can continue working. If you choose to work and realize you can’t at a later point, you have up to eight years to regain your benefits without needing to reapply.

There are certain types of volunteer work this is never counted by the SSA, not matter what your SGA is considered to be. These are:

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

If you have any questions about whether or not you should start volunteering, talk to SSA office or a disability attorney.

Additional Resources