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An Overview of Substantial Gainful Activity

By May 21, 2020October 6th, 20233 min read

One of the elements that must be met in order to qualify for Social Security disability benefits is proving you are so disabled that you are incapable of engaging in Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA). SGA is a monetary threshold: if you earn more than a certain amount of money, after removing disability-related work expenses, you are considered to be engaged in SGA. Please note: SGA does not apply to Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for blind individuals, but it does apply for non-blind disabled SSI beneficiaries.

SGA is work that involves productive and significant duties along with paying more than a current monthly limit set by the Social Security Administration (SSA). SGA includes part time work but does not include the following activities: household chores; going to school; involvement in social activities; things you do to take care of yourself (i.e., personal hygiene); and physical, mental, or occupational therapy.

The amount of monthly earnings that is considered SGA depends on your disability and its severity. SSA provides a higher income threshold for blind individuals and a lower threshold for non-blind disabled individuals. In 2020, SGA for blind persons is considered monthly income that exceeds $2,110; for non-blind disabled persons, SGA is monthly income that exceeds $1,260. The SGA amount changes year over year usually correspond to changes in the national average wage index.

Low wages do not determine whether you are engaged in SGA. SSA can consider criminal or volunteer activities as SGA if they represent substantial work for which someone would ordinarily be paid.

Similarly, high wages do not necessarily mean you are engaged in SGA. If any of the following special circumstances apply to your situation, SSA may not believe that your work amounts to SGA: 1) you are provided with assigned work or special equipment that is specifically suited to your disability; 2) you require special assistance from other employees; 3) you are able to work only because of assigned work or special equipment that is tailored to your impairment; 4) you are allowed to take frequent rest breaks or work irregular hours; or 5) you are allowed to work at a lower standard of efficiency or productivity than other workers are.

It is important to know what SSA takes into consideration when determining whether your income exceeds the established SGA threshold. SSA uses your gross pay to do so and does not allow you to exclude insurance premiums, FICA taxes, union dues, pension payments, state and tax withholdings, or additional standard payroll deductions. In contrast, SSA does not count any income that you obtain from sources that are not work, such as investments, gifts, or interest.

In the event that you attempt to go back to work, but, after six months, you had to reduce the work you performed or stopped working altogether because of your condition, that work generally will not be considered SGA by SSA standards.