When making a disability determination, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will first look to see whether you are currently engaged in substantial gainful activity (SGA).
For example, if you’re working a part-time job and earning very little money, you may still be eligible for disability benefits. However, if you’re working full-time, you’re more than likely going to be denied.
But what exactly is SGA, and how does it affect your disability claim?
What Is Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA)?
Substantial gainful activity generally refers to work that brings in a certain amount of dollars per month. For instance, in 2019 the amount for non-blind disabled SSI or SSDI applicants is $1,220 or $2,040 for blind SSDI claimants. If you make above that threshold per month, then the SSA will assume that you’re not disabled because you’re able to participate in competitive employment. Keep in mind that the SSA will only look at the income you obtain from work sources, as opposed to other sources (such as investments, interest, or gifts).
However, just because you earn a low income does not establish that you cannot work. The SSA will also take the circumstances under which you work into consideration as well. For example, if you’re a substitute bus driver, the SSA may still deem you able to perform substantial gainful activity despite your low income. They will take the on-call nature of your job into consideration.
Likewise, just because you’re earning a high income doesn’t necessarily mean that you have no case towards disability benefits. This is true if you’re working under special circumstances. You can use those special circumstances to argue that you would have earned less if your employer didn’t allow you to:
- Take frequent breaks or work irregular hours,
- Get special assistance from your fellow employees when performing your work duties,
- Work on projects geared towards your impairment, and/or
- Work at a lower standard of efficiency or productivity.
What Happens If You Are Engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity?
More often than not, if you earn above the monthly income threshold of $1,220, the SSA will deny your disability claim almost immediately. Unless you’re working under one of the special circumstances above, the SSA will see your income as an indicator that you’re not actually disabled. Remember, your monthly income is the very first thing the SSA looks at when determining disability benefits.
What Happens If You Stop Working?
What happens if you are worried that your current work activity could disqualify you from earning disability benefits and you just stop working? Well, if you file your claim and then immediately quit your job, you must prove to the SSA that your condition worsened to the point of quitting.
If you successfully prove your case, then the SSA may consider your work activity as an “unsuccessful work attempt.” Basically, if you work for six months or less and then stop due to your impairment, the work you performed will not be considered substantial gainful activity. That means that the SSA will not hold that work against you when deciding whether to approve your application or not.
What If You Are a Small Business Owner?
Because a small business’s net profits of over $1,220 per month doesn’t always indicate whether you’re engaging in substantial gainful activity or not, the SSA will employ “The Three Tests”. These tests are designed to show a closer look at what you actually do for your company, and will show the SSA whether you:
- Provide substantial services to your business and in turn receive a significant income,
- Perform any work that can be compared to the work other people in your field do without a disability, and
- Perform work valued at $1,180 per month, saving you from paying an employee to do that work instead.
Can You Still Work After Being Approved for Benefits?
Once you’re approved for disability benefits, you can still continue to receive up to $1,220 per month in other work without losing your benefits. That is as long as you continue to meet the SSA’s disability definition.
Speak to a Detroit Disability Attorney Today
To learn more about substantial gainful activity and how it affects your claim, speak to Marc J. Shefman today.