What is Substantial Gainful Activity in SSDI and SSI Benefits?

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The term Substantial Gainful Activity might not mean anything to you, but it should. The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers both Social Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits to people with disabilities. When applying for either of these benefits as a disabled person, you will be evaluated on a number of things. These include the nature and severity of your medical condition and the impact of this condition on your ability to earn a living.

This latter part of the evaluation is critically important. In fact, this is the first thing that SSA considers when evaluating your disability benefits application. If SSA finds that the work you can perform and the money you can earn is lower than the designated threshold, your application will then be evaluated for other requirements. However, if you are earning above the threshold, SSA will turn down the application at the earliest stage.

In determining whether you are earning below the maximum earning threshold, SSA uses a concept known as ‘Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA).’ It is important to understand SGA well when you are applying for disability benefits. Here is a look at what Substantial Gainful Activity is and how it figures in your benefits application.

What is Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA)?

Substantial gainful activity (SGA) is an activity that you can undertake to earn a significant amount of money on a regular basis. In order to qualify as a disabled person, SSA requires that you should be unable to undertake SGA. This may be a result of any physiological limitation imposed by the medical condition that has caused your disability.

SSA defines SGA by a certain amount of money that acts as the earning threshold. As long as you are earning below this level, SSA deems that you are not engaging in SGA. However, if your monthly earnings are above this level, SSA determines that you are engaging in SGA. Based on this assessment, SSA then rejects your claim of being a disabled person, ruling that you can work in a ‘competitive employment’ landscape. However, there are some exceptions to this rule. These are discussed further below.

SGA Limit for 2021

Every year, SSA defines a limit so that if you earn above this limit, you are regarded as engaging in SGA. For 2021, the SGA limit has been set at $1,310 for non-blind individuals. This means that if you earn above this amount as a non-blind disabled person, you will be deemed engaged in SGA. For blind individuals, the SGA limit for 2021 is $2,190.

Exceptions to the Substantial Gainful Activity Rule

Depending on the unique circumstances of the applicants, SSA considers exceptions to the SGA rule. This means that the agency may still consider an application even when your apparent earnings are above Substantial Gainful Activity if you are able to justify these. This is typically the case when you are earning above SGA because of:

  • Special equipment or work conditions tailored to your disability
  • Permission to provide a lower quality or productivity at work in consideration of your disability
  • Permission to work despite not qualified for it because of special concessions made by an employer
  • Special arrangement of work hours customized to your medical condition, such as regular breaks and briefer hours
  • Special help and assistance from other persons in performing your work

If your work engagement meets any of the above conditions, you can argue that you are able to engage in SGA because of these exceptional circumstances. In the absence of these circumstances, it can be argued, you would be unable to engage in such activity. The agency may then consider other factors, such as the nature and severity of your disability, to make a decision regarding your application.

Similarly, if your earnings are below the designated threshold, you may still be found to be engaged in SGA. This is typically when your lower earnings are not because of a physiological limitation but instead caused by the work conditions, such as being a contract-based employee instead of a permanent one. In such a case as well, the agency or the court will look at your medical condition to make a final determination.

Hiring Reliable Disability Attorneys in Greenville SC

If you are filing for disability benefits in Greenville, SC, it is important to consult a good attorney. A qualified attorney can help you meet various requirements and improve your odds of success. That is precisely what we offer here at Robert Surface Law Firm.

We work with you to create a benefits application that is complete, supported with relevant evidence, and is a lot more likely to succeed. We also help you determine whether you qualify for disability benefits. And if you do, what is the estimated dollar amount you can expect to receive. Contact us now to book a free session with our attorneys for a preliminary discussion.