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Independent Living News & Policy from the National Council on Independent Living

Elevate Blog: Can You Run for Office if You’re On Social Security?

One of the most common questions we receive about running for office is: “I receive Social Security benefits. Can I run for office?” The Social Security Administration (SSA) does not have any official guidance on their website about how campaigning or holding office can impact eligibility.

NCIL reached out to SSA last fall to ask them about whether running for office can affect someone’s Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments or Social Security Disability (DIB) benefits. SSA evaluates someone’s eligibility on a case-by-case basis. However, SSA does say that campaigning or holding elected office may impact your eligibility for SSI or DIB. We have included the full answer below. Their answer goes into more detail about how campaigning or holding office can impact eligibility for benefits. If you have any further questions, we recommend that you reach out to the Social Security Administration directly or talk to a benefits lawyer.

Answer from the Social Security Administration:

“We are unable to provide you with a definitive answer because disability determinations are necessarily fact-specific and must be performed on a case-by-case basis.  However, we can offer you general information about how such activities may affect eligibility or entitlement to benefits.

First, it is important to note that our rules require beneficiaries to inform the Agency of events that may affect their disability status.  Such events include a return to work, an increase in hours worked, or an increase in earnings received.  Holding an elected office, even if part-time or unpaid, is work that the beneficiary should report.  Furthermore, our rules also require a beneficiary to report medical improvement that allows them to return to work.  Thus, if the beneficiary’s ability to campaign correlates with medical improvement, he or she should report that medical improvement to us.  This information will generally require the agency to initiate a review to evaluate whether the beneficiary continues to be disabled under the Social Security Act.

Under the Act, an individual who engages in substantial gainful activity is not disabled. Accordingly, if a beneficiary’s income from an elected position qualifies as substantial gainful activity, then that beneficiary is likely no longer disabled under the Act, regardless of the nature of the work.  In addition, earnings from political activity are not typically excepted from SSI income and resource evaluations.  Thus, earnings from such political work that fall short of substantial gainful activity may still reduce or eliminate eligibility for SSI.

Regardless of earnings, a beneficiary’s demonstrated ability to work, or perform activities similar to work, may show that the beneficiary no longer meets our standard for disability.  Whether campaign activities or the duties performed in elective office demonstrate that the beneficiary is no longer disabled is a fact-specific inquiry, and we are not able to provide you a definitive answer in the abstract.  We would have to consider whether the beneficiary’s specific campaign or office activities, among other factors, demonstrate that he or she has the functional ability to work.  If he or she does, it is likely the Agency will find that the beneficiary is no longer disabled.  Thus, even part-time or unpaid work may result in a termination of disability benefits.

For the reasons discussed above, campaigning for or holding elective office, regardless of whether such position is full-time or paid, may affect a beneficiary’s entitlement or eligibility for both SSI and DIB.  As noted above, we would evaluate the impact of those activities and any earnings on a case-by-case basis to determine the impact on any particular beneficiary.”

Comments

  1. Spencer Rae Richey says

    Infuriating.

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