Will Caring for a Family Member Affect My Social Security Disability Claim?

May 3, 2024

“Yes, depending on the circumstances, caring for a family member can mean you are ineligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, and it can result in a denial or reduction of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits,” Nash disability lawyer Bob Godnik said.

This is because the Social Security Administration (SSA) might see providing care as a sign that you can work.

The SSA defines disability, for the purpose of getting benefits, as the inability to do any substantial gainful activity (SGA) by reason of medically determinable physical or mental impairments which have lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months.

Social Security uses the term “substantial gainful activity” to describe a certain level of work activity and earnings.

Work is “substantial” if it involves doing significant physical or mental activities or a combination of both. For work activity to be substantial, it does not need to be performed full time. Part-time work can be enough to reach SGA.

The SSA uses earnings guidelines to evaluate whether your work is substantial gainful activity. For non-blind individuals, the monthly SGA amount for 2024 is $1,550.

If you’re being paid to provide care for an aging parent, a relative with disabilities, or any other person—and your income exceeds this SGA limit—your benefits may be reduced or discontinued.

“But even if your care work does not exceed the SGA limit, it may cause an administrative law judge who will decide your case to doubt whether you are as disabled as you claim to be,” Godnik notes. “Being able to provide health and home care may be seen as evidence of your ability to function. Sometimes we have clients who try to dismiss caring for a family member as not really being ‘work,’ but it is important to remember that Social Security makes the rules.”

“Another common situation we run into,” Godnik says, “is when clients minimize or even totally leave out the contributions of others who also may provide care for that family member. Sometimes it is a misguided attempt to appear self-sacrificing and heroic, but it can harm your case.”

“If, for example, you are caring for elderly parents, but because of your disability you can’t do it every day, or you must frequently stop to rest, and you have a sibling who pitches in to help, share this information with your disability attorney, who may have you testify about this situation at your disability hearing.”

“You should also keep a ‘disability journal’. Simply stated, a disability journal is a log that tracks how your disability affects your day-to-day living, what you do to manage it, and how it may limit what care you can provide to a family member.”

There are a few exceptions to the SGA rule—special circumstances—where an individual may be receiving more monthly earnings than the SGA limit and will still be considered to have a qualifying disability and thus be eligible for disability benefits.

One special circumstance is known as “accommodated work,” when an employer may create special opportunities for a worker with impairments that typically do not exist for other employees of that company. However, even if this exception applies, Social Security may still view caring for a family member as showing a person’s ability to function.

Being aware of how Social Security views caring for a family member can help you win disability benefits.

Another way to improve your chances is with expert representation. A U.S. Government Accountability Office study revealed that if a claimant had a representative such as a Social Security Disability lawyer, they were three times more likely to be allowed benefits than someone who had no representation at all.

The Chicagoland disability attorneys at Nash Disability Law stand ready to fight for your rights. Call or email us for a free evaluation of your case. We have offices in Chicago and Palos Hills to serve you.