When you apply for SSD benefits, the Social Security Administration(SSA) will look for two things. First, whether your disability has lasted, or is expected to last at least 12 months, or is expected to result in your death. Second, whether the disability makes you unable to engage in Substantial Gainful Activity, or SGA. If the answer to either of these questions is ‘no’, your application will be denied.

What is Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA)?

So, what constitutes SGA? It is a monthly amount, adjusted each year based on the national average wage index, that the SSA considers to be indicative of engaging in SGA. Earn more than that amount in a month and you will be ineligible for benefits. For 2018, the SSA considers a person engaged in SGA if she earns more than $1,180 per month, or $1,970 if she is blind. Income is only counted if it is related to active earnings; passive income, such as interest income from investments, does not count as SGA.

While your monthly earnings are the starting point for the SSA’s evaluation of whether you are engaged in SGA, it is not the only consideration. The work performed must be substantial and gainful, and an applicant can be considered gainfully employed even though he is not receiving any financial benefit for his work.

Substantial and Gainful

The SSA considers work to be substantial if it involves significant physical or mental activities, or a combination of the two (whether the work is done on a full- or part-time basis is irrelevant). Work is considered gainful if it is done for pay or profit (or is generally done for pay or profit), or if the work is intended for profit, even if a profit is never realized.

Consider this example. Joan has muscular dystrophy and works two days a week, three hours a day, as an aide at the local elementary school for $15 per hour. That equals roughly $360 per month, which is well below the 2017 SGA amount. Her husband, Bill, owns a hardware store, and Joan spends 10 hours a week at the store handling the accounting and doing payroll. Although she doesn’t get paid for helping at her husband’s store, the SSA will consider her to be engaged in gainful work because working as a bookkeeper is generally something done for profit. The value of her contribution to Bill’s hardware store, when combined with her earnings at the elementary school, put her over the monthly SGA amount, making her ineligible for benefits.

Deduction of work-related expenses and SSG

If you do work, the SSA allows you to deduct certain work-related expenses from your monthly earnings, which could help lower your monthly income below the SGA threshold. Deductible expenses must be related to your impairment and help you perform your job, and may include costs associated with:

  • Specialized transportation to and from work;
  • Hiring an aide to help you get ready for work;
  • Hiring someone to handle the parts of your job you cannot do as a result of your disability, and;
  • Training necessary to learn how to use specialized equipment that is impairment related and needed for work, such as a page-turner or a typing device.

Are you considering filing for Social Security Disability Benefits? The Good Law Group can help you with a first-time application all the way through to an appeal in Federal Court. Complete our online form for a complimentary case evaluation or call our office at #(847) 577-4476.