Social Security Disability benefits are predicated on whether or not you can perform Substantially Gainful Activity (SGA), so it makes sense that a disability blog should define that a bit better and provide examples.
Defining Substantially Gainful Activity (SGA)
Social Security bases their definition of disability on your ability to work (or perform tasks like working) that do or could, earn you more than the current monthly income threshold. If you make more than that threshold, you are not seen as warranting disability compensation benefits by the Social Security Administration. You can appeal these determinations.
This can be a bit of a tricky calculation, but here are the basics. If a wage or earnings are not made, the work is not gainful. However, if you do perform some form of activity for pay, then it is considered gainful as long as the expense of doing so is less than the income you receive.
Social Security Administration Definition of Gainful Activity
Work performed for pay or profit; or
Work of nature generally performed for pay or profit; or
Work intended for profit, whether or not a profit is realized
This is important to know because benefits like SSI are tied to SGA. If you net too much income per month, you may not qualify for SSI benefits, due to your ability to perform SGA. This is a common reason for Social Security Disability Denials.
Substantial but Not Gainful
It is possible you can perform activities that you might do on a regular basis that would require significant physical or mental abilities. These activities could be the basis for employment, as such the value of the activities could potentially factor into the income calculations of an SSI claim.
Example: HR Professional in Spokane
Jane has been an HR professional in Spokane for 20 years. Over the last 5 years, she’s had to reduce her hours significantly due to complications from diabetes. She’s now working about 10 hours per week, earning $15 per hour.
Wage Earnings: $150/week ($600/month)
Jane is unable to work more than this due to increasingly impactful complications. Her employer has made accommodations, including flexible scheduling, work from home, and other allowances. But due to her disabling condition(s) Jane is unable to increase her gainful activity.
The value of Jane’s gainful activity is $600 / month (minus certain expenses). Jane would be eligible for disability due to her inability to meet the SGA monthly income threshold, and her inability to perform supplementary and/or alternatives tasks that would otherwise be substantially gainful.
Example: Car Sales Professional in Spokane Valley
Alan is a car salesman in Spokane Valley. He had a heart attack 3 years ago and has only been able to work part-time since then. He makes about $500 per month working part-time sales.
Wage Earnings: $500/month
When Alan is not working at the car lot, he helps his sister with her home business by answering phones, filing papers, and responding to emails. He does this about 2 hours a day or so.
Non Earning Activity (2 hrs/day) = 40hrs/month
Although the activity Alan performs for his sister’s business is not paid, it is substantial activity that could potentially fetch a wage in the economy.
The Social Security Administration determined that in addition to the $500/month Alan was earning at the car lot, the value of his work demonstrated substantially gainful activity and thus he was not entitled to the disability benefits he sought.