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Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA); Step 1: Are you engaged in substantial gainful activity?

Posted by Anton G. Ficek | Jan 13, 2022

Many social security claimants ask whether they can work and apply for social security disability. Claimants also ask what is substantial gainful activity or SGA? You should consult an attorney or a lawyer about this question. That said, the social security administration provides guidance on their website regarding what is considered substantial gainful activity. There are important caveats with respect to what substantial gainful activity is. Your attorney, lawyer, or representative can make arguments about unsuccessful work attempts, for example. There is additional nuance to this rule such as situations where an individual is engaged in work activity but is not being compensated for it. For example, small business owners might be engaged in full-time work, but be under the substantial gainful activity  Below is the social security website's guidance with respect to substantial gainful activity:

"To be eligible for disability benefits, a person must be unable to engage in substantial gainful activity (SGA). A person who is earning more than a certain monthly amount (net of impairment-related work expenses) is ordinarily considered to be engaging in SGA. The amount of monthly earnings considered as SGA depends on the nature of a person's disability. The Social Security Act specifies a higher SGA amount for statutorily blind individuals; Federal regulations specify a lower SGA amount for non-blind individuals. Both SGA amounts generally change with changes in the national average wage index.

Amounts for 2022
The monthly SGA amount for statutorily blind individuals for 2022 is $2260. For non-blind individuals, the monthly SGA amount for 2022 is $1350. SGA for the blind does not apply to Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, while SGA for the non-blind disabled applies to Social Security and SSI benefits. See historical series of SGA amounts below.

Trial work period
After a person becomes eligible for Social Security disability benefits, the person may attempt to return to the work force. As an incentive, we provide a trial work period in which a beneficiary may have earnings and still collect benefits. The trial work period does not apply to SSI benefits. The monthly amount of earnings that trigger a trial work period are lower than the monthly SGA amounts shown below." Credit to https://www.ssa.gov/oact/cola/sga.html. The link to this page is provided here.

Monthly substantial gainful activity amounts by disability type
Year Blind Non-blind
1975 $200 $200
1976 230 230
1977 240 240
1978 334 260
1979 375 280
1980 417 300
1981 459 300
1982 500 300
1983 550 300
1984 580 300
1985 610 300
1986 650 300
1987 680 300
1988 700 300
1989 740 300
1990 780 500
1991 810 500
1992 850 500
1993 880 500
1994 930 500
Year Blind Non-blind
1995 $940 $500
1996 960 500
1997 1,000 500
1998 1,050 500
1999 1,110 700a
2000 1,170 700
2001 1,240 740
2002 1,300 780
2003 1,330 800
2004 1,350 810
2005 1,380 830
2006 1,450 860
2007 1,500 900
2008 1,570 940
2009 1,640 980
2010 1,640 1,000
2011 1,640 1,000
2012 1,690 1,010
2013 1,740 1,040
2014 1,800 1,070
Year Blind Non-blind
2015 $1,820 $1,090
2016 1,820 1,130
2017 1,950 1,170
2018 1,970 1,180
2019 2,040 1,220
2020 2,110 1,260
2021 2,190 1,310
2022 2,260 1,350
  $500 amount applied in the first half of 1999.

About the Author

Anton G. Ficek

Social Security Disability Law

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