What is Substantial Gainful Activity?

What is Substantial Gainful Activity

As part of the application for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the Social Security Administration (SSA) is going to ask you if you are able to perform any ‘substantial gainful activity.’:

  • Has your disability lasted (or will it last) at least 12 months?
  • Can or did you work full-time or part-time during the period?
  • Did you earn enough income to support yourself?

Before answering any questions, you would be best served by consulting with an attorney who specializes in disability claims.

It is very easy to be confused by the bureaucratic legalize of SSA policy. A good example is the term ‘substantial gainful activity’ and how it was coined to describe a person’s level of activity related to work and earnings.

Essentially, substantial gainful activity is a phrase the SSA uses to define work. The SSA policy states that a person “must be unable to engage in substantial gainful activity” in order to qualify for benefits.

What is Substantial Gainful Activity?

The phrase itself, substantial gainful activity, often referred to as SGA, can be open to interpretation. According to the SSA, that activity is considered ‘substantial’ if it involves significant physical or mental activities or a combination of both. To be disabled the person must have functional limitations, physical and/or mental, that restrict or prevent them from working.

Gainful work activity is that:

  • Work performed for pay or profit; or
  • Work of a nature generally performed for pay or profit
  • Work intended for profit, whether or not a profit is realized

What are the Limits for Substantial Gainful Activity in 2019?

SGA is just one factor in deciding eligibility for disability benefits, but it is an important one. If you have a physical or mental disability but continue to do productive work that provides more than a certain amount of income, then the SSA considers you to be engaging in substantial gainful activity and you will be denied disability benefits. The ‘certain amount’ of monthly income depends on the disability. People who are statutorily blind are awarded a higher SGA amount, which changes periodically to adjust for inflation.

For 2019, the SGA amount is $1,220 for non-blind applicants (an increase of $40 from 2018) and $2,040 for blind applicants.

The amounts are important because they establish a limit. The SSA determines if a person is eligible for disability benefits through several steps. When first applying for disability, the SSA will determine if a person, i.e. a claimant, is disabled by rating their condition through a thorough evaluation and review of their medical and work histories.

First, the SSA will decide if a claimant is engaged in SGA. Then, disability examiners will give physical and mental ‘residual functional capacity’ ratings to determine disability.

How Does SGA Effect My Application?

If you are working full or part-time and you are earning more money per month than the SGA amount, you will not meet disability eligibility requirements. The reality is, despite how disabled you are, the SSA will in all likelihood deny your claim if you are making more money above the SGA amount. Your case will be given a technical denial at the SSA office in which the application was submitted. The denial happens fairly quickly. Because it is done at the SSA office, your claim is not forwarded to the Disability Determination Services or assigned a disability examiner for review and evaluation.

The SSA defines disability as the inability to engage in work activity that produces substantial income. What the SSA policy does not spell out is how such variables like averaging your monthly income can have a significant impact on the overall outcome of your claim. This is one of several variables that will probably not be discussed with you at the SSA office before a decision is rendered. It’s also one very good reason to contact a law office that specializes in disability claims before submitting an application for SSDI or SSI.

It’s important to know the limits of SGA, but it’s even more important to receive what you are entitled to when applying for disability benefits.

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