The Social Security Administration (SSA) distributes Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits to eligible individuals in the United States. You must meet a number of eligibility requirements in order to qualify for SSDI benefits. For starters, an individual will only qualify for SSDI benefits if they are unable to engage in what is known as “substantial gainful activity.”

What is substantial gainful activity? How can you prove that you are unable to engage in substantial gainful activity? Will you need to seek legal representation from a Tampa Social Security disability attorney? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and more.

What is Substantial Gainful Activity?

SSDI benefits are only available to individuals who are unable to work as a result of a disabling mental or physical condition. But “unable to work” actually means “unable to engage in substantial gainful activity.” According to the SSA, substantial gainful activity, or SGA, is work that:

  • Involves significant and productive duties
  • Pays more than the current monthly limits established by the SSA

If you are performing any type of work that meets these conditions, you are engaging in SGA, which means you will not qualify for SSDI benefits.

What Are the SGA Monthly Income Limits?

The SGA monthly income limits are adjusted on an annual basis. In 2020, the monthly income limit for blind individuals is $2,110 and the monthly income limit for non-blind individuals is $1,260.

In other words, if you are a non-blind individual who is currently performing work that pays more than $1,260 per month, you are not disabled in the eyes of the SSA, so you will not qualify for SSDI benefits. The SSA will generally immediately deny applicants who are making more than $1,260 per month. This means your application will be denied, with few exceptions, before it even goes through a medical review.

But if you perform work that pays less than $1,260 per month, you can still qualify for SSDI benefits as long as you meet the other eligibility requirements established by the SSA.

How Does the SSA Determine SGA for Self-Employed Applicants?

The rules for determining SGA are different for applicants who are self-employed. The SSA recognizes that a small business’s monthly profit is not the same as the small business owner’s monthly income. So if your small business is making over $1,260 per month, this does not necessarily mean you are earning more than $1,260 per month.

For this reason, the SSA will consider a number of different factors when determining whether self-employed individuals are engaging in SGA. If you are self-employed, the SSA will classify your work as SGA if it meets one of the following three conditions:

  • You perform services that are significant to the operation of the business and you receive a substantial income directly from the business.
  • You perform work that is similar to the work performed by non-disabled individuals who work for the same type of or similar type of business.
  • You perform work for the business that is valued at more than $1,260 per month or you perform work that saves your business from having to pay another employer more than $1,260 per month to perform the same work.

If your work meets one or more of these conditions, you are engaging in SGA and will not qualify for SSDI benefits.

Should You Stop Working to Apply for SSDI Benefits?

If you are currently earning over $1,260 per month by working, you typically will not get approved for SSDI benefits. But this does not mean that you should stop working prior to applying for benefits just so you can meet the eligibility requirements.

If you stop working, the SSA will need to see proof that you did not do this by choice. To get approved, you will need to prove to the SSA that you had to stop working because your disability worsened to the point where you could no longer perform your job duties. If the SSA believes you stopped working for the sole purpose of meeting the eligibility requirements, your application will be denied.

What Happens if You Engage in SGA After Being Approved for SSDI Benefits?

The SGA rule still applies even after you are approved for SSDI benefits. This means if you start performing work that pays more than $1,260 per month while receiving SSDI benefits, you will no longer qualify and benefits will stop. But your benefits will not be affected if you are performing work that pays less than $1,260 per month.

There is one exception to this rule. If you are receiving SSDI benefits and your medical condition begins to improve, you may decide that you want to try to reenter the workforce. In this case, the SSA will allow you to enter into a trial work program. During this program, you can perform work that pays more than the SGA monthly income limit without losing your benefits. This gives you an opportunity to try to rejoin the workforce without worrying about whether or not you will lose your benefits.

However, once the trial work period is over, benefits will end if you continue to earn more than the SGA monthly income limit.

Seek Legal Representation From A Skilled SSDI Attorney

Are you unable to work due to a disabling condition? If so, it’s in your best interest to seek legal representation from the skilled SSDI attorneys at Carlson Meissner Hart & Hayslett as soon as possible. Let our team guide you through the process of applying and fighting for the disability benefits you deserve.

Since 1971, our attorneys have helped clients in the greater Tampa Bay area win over $50 million in Social Security claims. Now, let us put our extensive experience, resources, and knowledge to work for you. Contact our law office today to schedule a free consultation regarding your case.