Can I Lose My Disability Benefits for Doing Volunteer Work?

Disability Benefits

Some states have new work requirement rules for people on Medicaid or Medicare. As a result, some people who like to volunteer now and then asked how that could impact their SSD benefits. You might wonder if it’s a problem before you even apply!

According to a recent Washington Post series, “one of the most misunderstood aspects of the federal disability programs has to do with working. Some recipients subsist on benefits alone, unable to work at all because of their disability, and some find paid part-time work. Others work for pay up to modest income limits allowed by the programs or are seeking employment. Many others perform unpaid volunteer work.” If you’re someone who loves to help others but can’t work full-time, keep reading…

Four Things Applicants & Beneficiaries Should Know About Volunteer Work

Volunteering gives beneficiaries a meaningful way to give back, get out into the world and socialize. For people with a mental illness, it can also help relieve some symptoms. Most people who can volunteer want to do it. Here’s everything you need to know about volunteer work and disability benefits:

1. People on Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, are exempt from any state’s Medicaid work requirements.

In most cases, volunteering three hours a week or less is probably fine for anyone on SSI.

2. People on Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits can maybe volunteer a few hours per week — but it’s trickier.

According to the SSA’s own rules, one place you cannot volunteer is at any family member’s business.

If you’re getting SSDI for anxiety or depression, your therapist or doctor may actually recommend volunteering as part of your treatment regimen. The SSDI rule explicitly says you can volunteer at groups listed under the Domestic Volunteer Service Act of 1973 or the Small Business Act without getting in trouble. These “safe” volunteer programs include:

  • 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

In fact, the SSA will not count any payments from these particular programs toward your monthly earnings limit. These payments may include a minimal stipend or payments for supportive services, such as:

  • Housing
  • Supplies and equipment
  • Expense allowance
  • Reimbursements to any volunteer for out-of-pocket expenses

3. If the SSA contacts you about volunteer work, someone may have reported you for “breaking the rules” and “working.”

Of course, if you’re volunteering for one of the “safe” organizations above, don’t worry about it! But if you have no idea who contacted the SSA and you didn’t tell them yourself, that’s a different story. In that case, we strongly recommend consulting a lawyer before you respond.

4. If you’re waiting on your disability claim’s review and get SNAP benefits, you may have to work or volunteer 80 hours per month already.

However, this “volunteer or work rule” only applies to able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWD). The USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service page explains ABAWDs can only get SNAP benefits for three months total in a three-year period. The one exception is if they meet certain special work requirements.

To meet special work requirements, an ABAWD must do one of the following:

  • Work at least 80 hours/month
  • Participate in qualifying education and training activities at least 80 hours/month
  • Take part in a workfare program

Of course, this rule also limits how much free time you have each month for volunteer activities.

Need help applying for disability benefits or appealing a denied claim? A lawyer is the best way to get paid the most disability benefits you’re owed faster. All Social Security lawyers work on contingency, so you’ll pay nothing now for professional help with your claim. And if a lawyer does help you win, you’ll only pay a small, one-time fee.

Ready to see if you may qualify? Click the button below to start your free disability benefits evaluation now:

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Laura Schaefer is the author ofThe Teashop Girls,The Secret Ingredient, andLittler Women: A Modern Retelling. She is also an active co-author or ghostwriter of several nonfiction books on personal and business development. Laura currently lives in Windermere, Florida with her husband and daughter and works with clients all over the world. Visit her online at and