Social Security Disability Step 1: Are you working?

substantial gainful activity, social security disability

Is the work you did SGA?

How Does Social Security Determine if You Are Working?

The first thing Social Security will do in your SSD or SSI claim is determine whether or not you are presently working.  If you worked at all, even part-time, at any point after the date you claimed you became disabled you should read this entire page.  If you have not worked at all since the day you claimed you became disabled then you do not have to read the rest of this page, you would simply move to the next step in the determination process.

According to Social Security CFR Section 404.1520 "At the first step, we consider your work activity, if any. If you are doing substantial gainful activity, we will find that you are not disabled."  To be eligible for Social Security Disability you must be out of work for a year or more or you must be expected to be out of work for a year or more or your medical conditions can be expected to result in death.  CFR Section 404.1520 states “If you are working and the work you are doing is substantial gainful activity, we will find that you are not disabled regardless of your medical condition or your age, education, and work experience.”  What does working mean in the context of a Social Security disability claim. The first thing you should know is that the Social Security Administration only considers work that is performed at a level that constitutes “substantial gainful activity”. This means part-time work may be considered work for Social Security purposes but it also means part-time work may not be considered work for the purposes of Social Security eligibility. Determining if the work you are doing, or were doing, at any point since your stated disability date (onset date) is considered work by Social Security it is much easier to determine if you are an employee rather than if you are self-employed.  If you are an employee and you make or made less than $1000 a month in the year 2010 then your work is not considered substantial gainful activity.  In other words, the work you did is not considered “work” for Social Security disability eligibility purposes.  The amount of money per month that you can make before it is determined that you are working at substantial gainful activity level increases every year and it is different for blind individuals.  CFR Section 404.1520 explains “To be eligible for disability benefits, a person must be unable to engage in substantial gainful activity (SGA). A person who is earning more than a certain monthly amount (net of impairment-related work expenses) is ordinarily considered to be engaging in SGA. The amount of monthly earnings considered as SGA depends on the nature of a person's disability. The Social Security Act specifies a higher SGA amount for statutorily blind individuals; Federal regulations specify a lower SGA amount for non-blind individuals. Both SGA amounts generally increase with increases in the national average wage index.”   The monthly SGA amount for statutorily blind individuals for 2010 is $1640.  I will now tell you the SGA amounts for the past three years for non-blind individuals.  In 2008 the SGA amount was $940, in 2009 the SGA amount was $980 and in 2010 the SGA amount is $1000 a month. For blind individuals the SGA amount for 2008 was $1570, in 2009 it was $1640 and in 2010 it is $1640. Just to be clear, this means that if you earned less than the SGA amount for a month (the SGA amount per month is determined by the year in which you did that work) then the work you did for that month would not be considered substantial gainful activity or “work”  for social security disability eligibility purposes.  So if you worked for several months in a year you must look at each month separately to determine if you made less than the SGA amount for each month you worked.  For example, if you worked for 2 months in 2010 and you made $1,200 the first month and 600 the second month then your first month would be considered working at SGA and the second month would be considered not working at SGA.  There is one more thing I should mention and that is SGA for the blind does not apply to Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, while SGA for the non-blind disabled applies to Social Security and SSI benefits.

Definition of Substantial Gainful Activity


How does Social Security determine if self-employment work is substantial gainful activity?

When you are self-employed understanding if that work is considered to be “work” for Social Security disability eligibility purposes is not a simple as it is for employees who get regular paychecks. For self-employed individuals determining if the work is substantial gainful activity is not as clearly defined so the best way to describe it is to tell you the Social Security Administration's definition of “substantial gainful activity”. Section 603.1 of the Social Security administration handbook defines substantial gainful activity as: The term "substantial gainful activity" is used to describe a level of work activity and earnings.   Work is "substantial" if it involves doing significant physical or mental activities, or a combination of both.   "Gainful" work activity is either of the following:   work performed for pay or profit;   work of a nature generally performed for pay or profit; or work intended for profit, whether or not a profit is realized.  POMS section DI 24001.001 defines substantial gainful activity:  “Substantial gainful activity means the performance of significant physical or mental activities in work for pay or profit, or in work of a type generally performed for pay or profit. Significant activities are useful in the accomplishment of a job or the operation of a business and have economic value. Work may be substantial even if it is performed on a seasonal or part-time basis, or even if the individual does less, is paid less, or has less responsibility than in previous work. Work activity is gainful if it is the kind of work usually done for pay, whether in cash or in kind, or for profit, whether or not a profit is realized. Activities involving self-care, household tasks, unpaid training, hobbies, therapy, school attendance, clubs, social programs, etc., are not generally considered to be SGA.”  Figuring out if your self-employment is considered SGA can be difficult and can be quite subjective. If you own a business, even if the business did not make a profit the work you did may still in some situations be considered substantial gainful activity.  If you did any work after the date you claimed you became disabled you may want to consider seeking the help of a lawyer to determine how the work you did may affect your claim and what steps you should take to make sure you are both eligible for SSDI or SSI and to make sure you get the full amount of past due benefits you are entitled to.