What Does SSDI Consider Substantial Gainful Activity?
If you’re applying for Social Security disability (SSDI), “substantial gainful activity” (SGA) is a very important concept. Part of the standard for being eligible for SSDI is that you are unable to engage in substantial gainful activity. Here’s how the Social Security Administration (SSA) defines substantial gainful activity:
- Work activity is “substantial” if it involves significant mental or physical activities (or a combination of the two)
- Activity is “gainful” if it:
- Is performed for pay or profit,
- Is of a type typically performed for pay or profit, or
- Is intended for profit, whether or not a profit is actually realized
The clearest and simplest test for SGA is to look at the applicant’s earnings. Someone who is earning more than the SGA cut-off is not eligible for SSDI benefits. That number changes from year to year. In 2023, the cut-off is $1,470/month, or $2,460/month if the applicant is blind.
However, it’s important to note that while having earnings above the threshold is sufficient to disqualify an applicant, having earnings below the threshold doesn’t always mean the applicant is unable to engage in substantial gainful activity. For example:
- The SSA may conclude that although the applicant is not currently earning above the threshold, they are capable of doing more work than they currently engage in
- The SSA may conclude that the applicant is engaged in SSA if they are working a significant number of hours, even if they are not earning above the threshold
Working While on Social Security Disability
The discussion above is focused on an applicant for SSDI. But, what happens when someone who is already receiving disability benefits engages in work? An SSDI recipient can earn some money from work without jeopardizing benefits. However, the ceiling is lower than it is in the SGA assessment.
In 2023, earnings of $1,050 in a month will trigger a trial work period. The recipient can continue on SSDI and receive all regular benefits until they have nine successful trial months in a 5-year period. Then, they’ll enter a transitional period intended to phase the recipient off of SSDI benefits and back into the workforce. The trial work period system provides a safety net for recipients who want to test out returning to work without jeopardizing benefits. But, it can have unintended consequences for someone who is very occasionally able to engage in work. So, it’s important for anyone receiving benefits to understand their reporting requirements and how trial work periods work.
Talk to An Experienced Disability Benefits Advocate
If your SSDI application has been denied because the SSA says you are able to engage in substantial gainful activity, that isn’t necessarily the end of the road. Call Disability Help Group at (800) 800-3332 or contact us here today to learn more about your rights and options.