What is Substantial Gainful Activity in Social Security Disability Cases?

As individuals proceed through the Social Security Disability application process, they are almost certain to come across the term Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA). To those who are first time filers, this term is likely unfamiliar. It does, however, have a significant bearing on any Social Security Disability claim.

In order to be eligible to receive Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits, the claimant must suffer from a mental or physical disability that is so severe that he or she is unable to engage in Substantial Gainful Activity. So what exactly is Substantial Gainful Activity when it comes to Social Security?

When determining whether or not an individual is considered disabled, Social Security will evaluate the claimant’s current workload. An individual who is performing a substantial amount of work, such as working full time, will typically be denied benefits. If the claimant is working only part time, however, he or she may still be able to qualify as disabled.

The amount of hours worked is not the only thing that is considered when Social Security evaluates SGA, however. If an individual earns more than the maximum amount allowed each month, he or she will be disqualified as well. While the amount of earning considered to be SGA can vary depending on the individual’s disability, SGA amounts typically change with the national average wage index each year.

SGA for the Blind

The Social Security Act allows for a higher SGA when the claimant is statutory blind. It is important to remember that, for blind individuals, SGA only applies to SSD benefits, not Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The formula for determining SGA for the coming year is only applicable if the cost of living increase is effective in December. Since there was no cost of living increase in December of 2015, SGA remains the same for 2016 ($1,820).

SGA for the Non-Blind

For non-blind disabled individuals, SGA applies to both SSD and SSI benefits. To determine SGA, the 2014 average wage index is divided by the 1998 average wage index and the result is multiplied by the 2000 SGA. The amount is then rounded up to the nearest 10. For 2016, the amount of allowable SGA is $1,130.

Trial Work Period

Once an individual in determined to be disabled, that person may decide to attempt to return to work. As an incentive, Social Security offers a trial work period in which the person can have earnings and still receive benefits.