How Does “Substantial Gainful Activity” Impact Your Claim?
When evaluating whether or not you are disabled, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will first examine your case to see whether you are currently engaged in gainful employment. Of course, working a part-time job and earning a small amount of money does not automatically bar you from receiving benefits. On the other hand, working a full-time job most certainly guarantees that you will be denied benefits. That’s because in order to be eligible for disability benefits, you must be unable to perform substantial gainful activity (SGA). But what exactly is substantial gainful activity, and how does it impact your claim?
What Is Substantial Gainful Activity?
In 2019, substantial gainful activity is work that brings in any earnings over:
- $1,220 for non-blind applicants; and
- $2,040 for blind applicants.
However, the only income that the SSA considers is work-related income. Therefore, income from investments, interest, or gifts are not among the sources of income that count. However, income from employment, a business that you run, or a sole proprietorship do count toward the cap.
If you are making more than the limits discussed above, the SSA will consider you capable of engaging in competitive employment. They will therefore determine that are not disabled. However, that is only one way in which SGA is calculated.
Those who only work part-time or make less than the established cap for their disability class are not automatically considered eligible for SSD or SSDI. For instance, if a worker is only working part-time, the SSA will first consider the nature of that work. They will then make a determination as to whether or not the work establishes that the applicant is capable of “engaging in competitive employment.” In some cases, the SSA will also consider some volunteer activities as proof that the applicant is capable of engaging in SGA.
Even those who are making above the cap may not, in reality, be doing substantial gainful activity. If an applicant is doing SGA according to the SSA, that applicant may make any of the following counterclaims. The applicant was:
- in need of special assistance to complete the duties of their job;
- allowed to work on their own schedule and take frequent breaks;
- provided with equipment or assigned tasks that they were capable of performing;
- able to work only with the help of others;
- allowed to maintain their position at a lower standard of productivity than other workers; or
- allowed to work due to a special relationship (family, friend) to the employer.
In cases where you are working under one of the special circumstances listed above, you may be able to still qualify for disability regardless of whether or not you are earning more than the aforementioned cap. This, however, is complicated by the fact that you will have to prove one of the statements mentioned above. But it doesn’t bar you from qualifying for disability benefits.
Additionally, those who are making more than the cap will have their claims denied immediately without even a review of their medical records. But this does not mean that the fight is over. By and large, the vast majority of applications will be denied on the first try. It only means that you must prove more elements in order to make your case.
Small Business Owners and the Self-Employed
If you own a small business or are a sole proprietor, it’s hard for the SSA to gauge your level of involvement in that business. Additionally, as a sole proprietor, you may be able to set your own hours and have broad leeway over what kinds of work you do and do not take.
While the SSA will very likely want to know all about your activities in relation to your business, it does not create as high a barrier as would full-time employment. Indeed, your daily activities bear little relation to the profits you earn as a sole-proprietor. The SSA will carefully look at all aspects of your daily work to determine whether or not you are eligible for benefits or may continue receiving benefits if you’re already approved.
Trial Work Periods and Unsuccessful Work Attempts
The SSA will also take into consideration unsuccessful attempts to sustain gainful employment. Unsuccessful work attempts (UWA) are defined as periods of less than six months during which the applicant engaged substantial gainful activity. A disability attorney can help you establish a UWA. You can then use it to prove an earlier onset date for your disability.
Additionally, individuals who are already receiving Social Security benefits are encouraged to try to work when they are able. Individuals collecting benefits are entitled to one trial work period during which they may work for nine months over a 60-month rolling period without any adjustment to their benefits.
Speak to Disability Attorney Services LLC Today
If you have questions about substantial gainful activity and your disability claim, talk to Charlotte NC disability attorney Gary Brown. We can help avoid mistakes in your disability application and increase your chances of obtaining an approval. Also, if you’ve had your benefits canceled due to income strictures, we can help you file a petition to have them reinstated. Contact us today to learn more.