Articles Posted in Substantial Gainful Activity

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The Social Security Administration has released a new COLA fact sheet that outlines the various changes that go into effect in 2022 for Social Security beneficiaries, including those who receive disability benefits.

If you are a beneficiary currently receiving benefits under the Social Security Disability Insurance program, or plan on applying for benefits this year, these changes will apply to you. The most important changes are related to the substantial gainful activity thresholds that apply to disability benefits.

Substantial gainful activity refers to the maximum gainful work that you are allowed to do in order to still qualify for disability benefits. Basically, this is the maximum amount of work that you can do in spite of your disability. If you are working at a job that helps you earn above this income threshold, then you are not eligible for disability benefits. In 2022, the substantial gainful activity limit for non- blind persons is $1,350 per month. For blind persons, the threshold is $2,260 per month.

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The Social Security Administration (SSA) has announced a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) increase for both Social Security disability benefits as well as Supplemental Security Income benefits. Disability beneficiaries will receive a 1.6% increase in their benefits, applying to all Social Security disability benefits from January 2020.

Another important announcement by the SSA has to do with the increase in the substantial gainful activity (SGA) threshold. SGA refers to work that helps a person earn a certain amount of money. A person engaging in SGA is not eligible for disability benefits. Those levels have now been increased to $1,260 per month from $1,220 per month. This applies to non-blind beneficiaries. Blind or visually-impaired persons typically have a higher substantial gainful activity limit. The current limit is $2,040, and this has been increased to $2,110.

There has also been an increase in the Trial Work Period threshold for Social Security disability beneficiaries. This has been increased to $910 per month, from the current $880 per month.  Correspondingly, there has also been an increase in the threshold of Social Security benefits earnings that are subject to taxes.  That limit has been increased from the current $132,900 to $137,700.

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A common question I get each while talking to prospective clients is whether a person can keep working while applying for disability.  Frequently, callers are baffled when I advise that “no, you cannot work and simultaneously apply for disability.”  Also, I do not accept prospective clients that are still working.  First, let’s define “work.”  Social Security defines work as “substantial gainful activity”  or “SGA”  SGA means that you are earning $1170 a month in gross income (in 2018 this amount will be $1180).  If you are legally blind, this amount is $1950.  SSA does not care how much your bills are each month; it only evaluates monthly gross income.  If you are earning SGA, then you cannot be disabled.  That will be the end of your disability application and no medical evaluation of your disability will need to take place.

Now does that mean that you can earn just under SGA and be successful on a disability application?  Practically speaking, the answer is no.  Usually, claimants (people applying for disability) that work in the upper end of this number or just at SGA are not successful either.  Probably because while the claimant is not technically barred from receiving disability, the ability to work and earn income close to SGA suggests that they could earn SGA.  Thus, these claims also usually fail.

When I explain this to callers, many are aghast that they might have to wait two years on a decision on a disability application while also not being able to earn an income of any sort.  I agree – that is a dilemma.  What do people do?  First, if you have a chronic condition, you might want to plan ahead.  If your employer offers disability insurance, then buy it.  Buy it even if you are healthy.  Many of clients with long-term disability insurance weathered the long wait time for Social Security Disability because they had private insurance payments coming in each month.  Without private insurance, my clients have downsized, exhausted savings, and borrowed from family.  These are not ideal plans, but it is a gap filler while awaiting Social Security disability benefits.  Delay times at this administration are not improving.  So preparing financially to be without an income for two years is a good idea.

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You might believe that your disability is severe, and meets the Social Security Administration’s criteria for claims approval. However, many Social Security disability claims are denied every year because of one of the following factors.


In 2016, the Substantial Gainful Activity limit is $1,130 per month. That means that if you earn an income that is above this limit, you may not qualify for Social Security disability benefits. Several income sources may be included in this calculation. To understand whether your earnings are within this limit, speak to a Social Security disability benefits lawyer.

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Social Security disability benefits payments are not permanent. Your payments will be reviewed periodically by the Social Security Administration (SSA), which could decide to stop benefits.

Disability benefits typically cease when one of the following two criteria are met.

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The term “Substantial Gainful Activity” refers to work activity that provides a certain monthly income beyond a limit. Remember, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will deny a claim if it has reason to believe you are earning more than a predetermined SGA limit.

What is the SGA limit?

The limit depends on a number of factors. The most important factor is the type of disability. Some conditions may allow a person to receive disability benefits even if they are earning a higher income than another person who is denied. For instance, persons who suffer from blindness may have a much higher SGA limit while still retaining their eligibility for Social Security disability benefits.

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The Social Security Disability Administration (SSA) will consider a number of factors, including the income that you are earning, before it approves your benefits claim. Of primary importance in the processing of your claim is any Substantial Gainful Activity that you are performing. Substantial Gainful Activity is any income that earns you an income beyond a certain limit. In 2015, the limit set by SSA $1,090 per month. You are not eligible for benefits if you earn more than this fixed amount.

However, the income that SSA will calculate will only include work-related benefits. Unemployment benefits are not included in the calculation. Therefore, your unemployment benefits will have no effect on your eligibility for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration. Your unemployment benefits will also not have any effect on the amount of benefits that you receive from SSA.

However, there is a flipside. The benefits that you get from Social Security Administration may lead to a reduction in the amount of unemployment benefits that you receive. For more information on this, it’s best to contact the Georgia Department of Labor or logon to its website and learn whether your unemployment benefits will decrease because of your disability benefits.

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