In addition to the medical requirements, medical records, physicians testimonies and enough work credits for AIME, you need to be unable to perform sufficient work under substantial gainful activity to be eligible for disability benefits.
The SSA evaluates whether you are able to work enough work hours if you are currently working or not. If you are working part-time for sufficient hours and are not working enough money for instance less than the smallest AIME for SSDI (i.e., $1260) then you will not automatically be denied SSDI benefits. However, if you are able to work sufficient hours to earn a living or if you run a business, do freelance activity or have any other source of income then your disability benefits will be denied automatically.
What is Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA)
Being unable to work or unemployment is one of the basic criteria for SSDI benefits. To be eligible for disability benefits a disability claimant must be unable to earn enough work hours. A person is said to be substantially stable if he can perform work to earn a minimum of $1260 as per the AIME standards.
The monthly statutory amount for substantial gainful activity for non-blind is $1260 for both SSDI and SSI applicants and for blind is $2110 for SSDI applicants (the SGA amount does not apply for blind applicants filing for SSI). So, if a disability benefits claimant is able to earn the SGA amount, the SSA does not consider them disabled enough to get disability benefits. In other words, people earning an SGA amount is able to engage in competitive employment on their own. When deciding whether you qualify or not, the SSA does not take into account any other income you maybe getting from other sources such as interests, hobbies, gifts etc.
On the other hand, earning a low income does not necessarily make you eligible for disability benefits. The SSA will access the type of work you perform and under which circumstances. For instance, in a particular case the person working as s substitute at a volunteering pace earning a low substantial income will not be considered as disabled by the SSA. This is because the SSA would not consider the low earnings in this case as thebasis of being unable to perform SGA, instead the low earnings would indicate the on-call nature of the job. Hence, the person would not be considered as substantially disabled.
Similarly, a person earning a high amount does not necessarily mean the claimant was earning SGA (given that they were working on special allowed conditions). Other than that, a claimant can argue in their case if they are earning even SGA amounts if:
- -The high income was made possible only in terms of special circumstances and facilities provided to them for performing their work;
- -The claimant was allowed to work on special hours or were allowed frequent breaks;
- -The claimant performed work specially suited to their disability needs;
- -The claimant was provided special equipment to perform the job;
- -The claimant had special arrangements such as conveyance to and fro from the job location;
- -The claimant was excluded from maintaining certain standards at job;
- -The claimant was given/provided the job as part of a family favor or an employer's past acquaintance in concerns over the claimant's welfare;
How to know if your claim would be denied due to SGA?
Disability claimants who perform jobs/carry out work and earn a gross monthly income exceeding the SGA threshold are not considered disabled and are ineligible to receive benefits, unless they were working under one of special circumstances discussed above.
In fact, if you are making over $1,260 (in2020, for non-blind) and over $3110 (for blind) when you file your application, your claim will be denied almost immediately, without a medical review (your medical records will not even be requested or evaluated because you will be considered ineligible for benefits), because how much you are earning is one of the first things the SSA looks at.
If, however, it is determined that your work activity does not amount to substantial gainful activity, you will have passed the first step of the SSA's five-step evaluation process and your medical eligibility would be considered at the next step of the process.
What happens to your SSDI if you stop working?
It may sometimes occur that a claimant has to stop working after they had applied for their disability benefits. However, the application mentions that the claimant was working at the time of the application then they will have to explain through sufficient medical records, physician's statements that your disability prevented you from working to the point that you had to stop performing SGA.
The SSA will then asses your case to determine whether your work was an 'unsuccessful work activity attempt'. Hence, any income earned through a work activity performed under the unsuccessful work attempt will not be considered as an SGA.
You can find out more by getting in touch with our disability advocates.