By Michelle Shvarts
Principal Attorney

If you’re disabled and considering applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, you’ll likely encounter the term “substantial gainful activity” (SGA). This concept plays a crucial role in determining your eligibility for these programs. Here, our experienced Social Security disability attorneys explain SGA and how it applies to your benefits.

What is Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA)?

SGA is essentially a measure of how much you can earn while still being considered disabled for the purposes of SSDI and SSI. The Social Security Administration (SSA) considers you to have “substantial” work capacity if you can consistently perform work that generates income above a certain threshold.

What Counts as SGA?

Not all income counts towards SGA. Here’s a breakdown:

  • Counts Towards SGA: Wages, salary, commissions, net earnings from self-employment (after deducting business expenses).
  • Doesn’t Count Towards SGA: Government benefits (SSI itself doesn’t count, but other programs like Social Security retirement do), gifts, scholarships, support payments (child support, alimony).

Common Examples:

  • Earns Above SGA Limit: If you’re working full-time and consistently exceeding the SGA limit, you might not be eligible for benefits.
  • Earns Below SGA Limit: Working part-time and earning below the SGA limit generally strengthens your claim.
  • Works Sporadically: Inconsistent work due to disability symptoms may not be considered SGA.

Calculating SGA:

The SSA sets a monthly SGA limit that’s adjusted annually to reflect cost-of-living changes. There are separate limits for blind individuals ($2,590 in 2024) and non-blind individuals ($1,550 in 2024). The SSA considers not just your gross earnings but also factors like impairment-related work expenses.

What Happens if You Earn More Than the SGA Limit?

Exceeding the SGA limit doesn’t automatically disqualify you from benefits. The SSA will assess your overall situation, including:

  • Severity of Your Impairment: If your disability significantly limits your work capacity, even with earnings above the SGA limit, you might still qualify.
  • Type of Work Performed: The SSA considers if the work you’re doing is suitable for your limitations. For example, a sedentary desk job might be feasible for someone with back pain, while construction work wouldn’t be.

How a Social Security Disability Attorney Can Help

Understanding SGA and its nuances can be complex. An experienced SSDI/SSI attorney can:

  • Explain the SGA rules in detail: They’ll ensure you understand how SGA might affect your specific circumstances.
  • Help you gather evidence: They can assist you in documenting your disability and its impact on your work capacity.
  • Navigate the application process: They can guide you through the intricacies of applying for SSDI or SSI benefits.
  • Represent you throughout the appeals process: If your claim is denied, an attorney can advocate for you and fight for the benefits you deserve.

The path to securing SSDI or SSI benefits can be challenging. Partnering with a skilled Social Security disability attorney can significantly improve your chances of success. Contact Disability Advocates Group for a free consultation. We’ll help you navigate the complexities of SGA and work towards achieving a secure future.

About the Author
Ms. Shvarts and the rest of the team at Disability Advocates Group are dedicated to assisting individuals in Florida obtain Social Security Disability Benefits (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.