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What is “Substantial Gainful Activity”?

Learning how to qualify for Social Security Disability is an important step before you apply for disability. One very common and important question that comes up in this process is, “What is ‘substantial gainful activity’?”

This is a key question for anyone filing a disability benefit application because, in determining whether someone qualifies for disability benefits, the Social Security Administration looks to answer two principal questions:

1) Is the claimant engaging in substantial gainful activity?
2) If not, does the claimant have a severe impairment under the law which qualifies under a Listing or prevents them from performing their past work or any other work pursuant to regulation?

Claimants who work and earn an income need to know whether the amount of work they do disqualifies them for disability benefits. Talking with a Social Security benefits lawyer is the best way to determine whether a claimant’s work and income disqualify him or her for benefits. However, the guidelines below should give you a good idea.

Substantial Gainful Activity and How to Qualify for Social Security Disability Benefits

When you apply for disability it’s important to clearly distinguish in your disability benefit application that you are not engaged in and are unable to engage in substantial gainful activity. According to the Social Security Administration, Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) must meet both of the following requirements:

(a) Substantial work activity. Substantial work activity is work activity that involves doing significant physical or mental activities. Your work may be substantial even if it is done on a part-time basis or if you do less, get paid less, or have less responsibility than when you worked before.

(b) Gainful work activity. Gainful work activity is work activity that you do for pay or profit. Work activity is gainful if it is the kind of work usually done for pay or profit, whether or not a profit is realized.

The SSA further clarifies the issue of substantial gainful activity by putting limits on how much a claimant can earn from work each month and still qualify for Social Security Disability benefits. The limits change each year to incorporate changes in the national average wage index, but in 2012 the monthly limits disabled individuals can earn as an employee and still qualify for Social Security Disability benefits are:

Blind Individuals: $1,690
Non-blind Individuals: $1,010

In all cases, people who apply for disability do not have to count earned income spent on equipment or services that enable the individual to work in order to qualify for Social Security Disability. For example, a claimant who earns $1,200 per month but spends $300 per month on transportation services in order to safely get to work will meet the income guidelines because the net income is $900. Your Social Security benefits lawyer can help you determine how much of your income must be counted before you file your disability benefit application.