What Is Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA), and How Does It Affect Social Security Disability (SSDI)?

When you’re receiving financial assistance through the Social Security Administration (SSA), you may have a lot of concern regarding events or actions that might cause your benefits to be terminated or reduced. It’s not surprising or uncommon to have such fears, as most people receiving disability payments become reliant on them to pay for medical treatments and appointments, cover daily living expenses, and support a certain quality of life. Most people receiving disability benefits don’t need to worry about their assistance being terminated or reduced, but there are some circumstances you should at least be aware of.

Man in wheelchair

The primary reason for Social Security disability benefits in the first place is to support individuals who are unable to work and earn money due to severe impairment. Most benefit redeterminations are related to either a change in assets or income, reaching retirement age, or a substantial change to the relevant injury or illness as discovered through the reevaluation process the SSA conducts for most disability beneficiaries every three to seven years.

For 2021, substantial gainful activity (SGA) is defined as earning $1,310 or more a month or $2,190 a month if you’re blind, but ultimately the scope is wider than just what you earn. If you have an impairment but are earning more than the SGA level, you are ineligible to receive disability benefits. If your income increases after you begin receiving disability payments, you are at risk of having your benefits terminated and should speak with a seasoned Florida disability attorney to determine your best options as soon as possible.

Examples of Substantial Gainful Activity

Working full-time and surpassing the income threshold set by the SSA is probably the most obvious example of SGA, but there is far more to it than that.

Many activities outside of the typical job could be constituted as SGA by the SSA, which means you should be careful about your activities if you rely on continued financial assistance through disability. Most cases of SGA outside of full-time employment involve some form of significant physical or mental work, like in some part-time jobs, where the work you’re doing is either paid or would normally be paid in most circumstances.

Here are some example cases where the beneficiary might be considered to be engaging in SGA:

  • They work a part-time job and drive for a rideshare company, surpassing the maximum income threshold
  • They work for a relative’s business without earning income, but the SSA determines the work would be paid in other circumstances
  • They engage in volunteer activity at a level that would surpass the SGA income threshold if the work were paid
  • They are self-employed and earn less than $1,310 a month, but their work is comparable to that of a person in the same community without a disability

Volunteer Work

Essentially, if you do enough volunteer work and the work is comparable to work that could be done for pay, it may be considered SGA.

Generally, if you volunteer so much that it matches what you would do in a part-time job, or if the wages you would earn for the work you’re doing would be more than $1,310 a month if it were paid, or if the type of work you’re doing is mentally or physically significant enough, the volunteer work might be considered SGA. If you feel that the volunteer work you engage in might be considered SGA, it may be a good idea to volunteer less or try to find different ways to contribute outside of typical work.

Some volunteer programs have exceptions if they are covered under the Domestic Volunteer Service Act. Covered programs follow:

  1. Volunteers in Service to America
  2. Active Corps of Executives
  3. Special Volunteer Programs
  4. Retired Senior Volunteer Program
  5. Foster Grandparent Program
  6. Service Corps of Retired Executives, and
  7. University Year for ACTION

Unpaid Work for Family

Just as with volunteer activity, unpaid work for a family business can constitute SGA. If the work you are doing is comparable to work you could do for income and you work regularly enough that your wages would surpass $1,310 a month, the SSA would likely find that you’re engaging in SGA.

Working for a family member can help you defend against claims of SGA in some cases, however, if you can successfully argue that your employment situation is only available to you due to your family relationship and that you wouldn’t be hired for a similar position without a family connection, you may be able to argue that the work you’re engaging in doesn’t qualify as SGA. In cases like this, getting help from a local disability attorney can boost your chances of successfully arguing your case.

Get the Legal Help You Need With Your Social Security Disability Case

Making sure you don’t lose your disability payments is usually a top priority for beneficiaries. It can be difficult to know exactly what is and isn’t a substantial gainful activity, and engaging in it can mean the end for your disability benefits. Whether you’re dealing with the threat of losing your benefits, having a hard time getting approved for benefits, or just need your disability questions answered, an experienced Florida disability attorney can help.

The legal team at Hoskins, Turco, Lloyd & Lloyd know how crucial disability payments are for individuals who rely on them. Fighting to retain or gain access to the maximum benefits possible is our top priority for our clients and we will fight for your benefits too. Call us at 866-460-1990 or contact us online to schedule your free consultation today.

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