HOW DOES THE SSA DEFINE WORK?
If you file a claim for disability benefits and you are still working, you are going to hear the term “substantial gainful activity.” The SSA defines this term as work. But what does it mean? SGA means “work” over a certain amount of money each month. But before you get to how much is SGA, first look to determine if you have a qualifying disability.
First, for you to have a disability under the Social Security regulations, you must have a medically determinable impairment that prevents you from engaging in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. §404.1510. The impairment must be severe and of a year’s duration, unless it is likely to result in death. 20 C.F.R. §404.1509. The impairment must prevent you from returning to your previous employment.
It must also prevent you from performing other work that exists in a substantial numbers, either where you live or in several regions of the country. If you have a disability that stops you from full-time work, you can apply for benefits at ssa.gov.
WHAT IS SUBSTANTIAL GAINFUL ACTIVITY?
Generally, a claimant is not eligible for Social Security disability benefits if he is working. However, whether one’s work is “substantial gainful activity” is determined by the amount of pay it generates and by an interplay of factors which constitute productivity. For example, a part-time job, a low paying full-time job, or a job requiring little exertion and few skills, may qualify as substantial gainful activity. These types of jobs could make one ineligible for disability benefits. The quality of one’s performance on the job and the time spent at work are factors the SSA will consider. The issue is the ability to engage in substantial gainful activity, not the work itself. 20 C.F.R. §404.1571.
Therefore, substandard performance in a job may indicate disability. Whereas, a claimant’s effective performance of part-time volunteer activities may show that he is capable of substantial gainful activity. A claimant’s earnings may show that he is capable of performing substantial gainful activity. However, low earnings do not necessarily establish this. Pay is only one factor among many. 20 C.F.R. §404.1574. Social Security regulations establish figures presumptive of the ability to perform substantial gainful activity, but these figures are not conclusive in the absence of inquiry into the claimant’s job performance, job requirements, and evidence of special assistance or consideration from claimant’s employer. Cardew v. Commissioner of Social Security, 896 F.3d 742, 258 Soc. Sec. Rep. Serv. 536 (6th Cir. 2018).
SUBSTANTIAL GAINFUL ACTIVITY IN 2019 AND IN 2020
Beginning January 1, 2001, the monthly substantial gainful activity amount for persons with impairments other than blindness is adjusted annually based on the average wage index. The SGA amount will never be lower than the previous year’s amount, but there can be years when there is no increase. For 2019, the SGA amount is $1220. In 2020, the SGA amount is $1260 gross per month. Amounts are different and higher for people who are blind.
What do you need to know? You need to know that disability benefits are for people who cannot work at all. However, if you are working just a few hours a week and earning, before taxes, less than $1220, you are still eligible to apply for disability benefits. This is a complex issue and you should call our office and talk to an attorney about your options if you are working. The SSA is very strict about performing SGA (working) and determining whether you are eligible for disability benefits.
If you are not able to work due to a disability, you need to replace your income. You also need health insurance. You can apply for disability benefits at ssa.gov. If you are eligible you will receive monthly disability benefits and Medicare. Make sure you understand your rights. We can help you apply for benefits and appeal a denial from the SSA. Contact Cannon Disability Law today.