Can you be denied social security due to substantial gainful activity?

By Michelle Shvarts
Principal Attorney

The Social Security Disability is an insurance program funded solely by the social security taxes under Federal Insurance Contributions Act, FICA. Although almost every working person paying social security taxes is eligible to file for social security claims, that is not the only way the applications are analyzed for the final approval. You would need to prove to the SSA that your earnings are below the monthly income thresholds stated by the SSA under substantial gainful activity, SGA.

Substantial Gainful Activity

To qualify for social security disability benefits you must be able to prove to the SSA that you are unable to perform work under substantial gainful activity.

Each individual will have their own measure of substantial gainful activity depending on the severity of their impairment. A person will Alzheimer’s will be analyzed on different grounds than a person with lost limbs.

The SSA will also look into national average wage index while calculating your substantial gainful activity. This is because the cost-of-living may vary state to state making it necessary for the SSA to perform cost-of-living assessments, COLA.

The monthly income threshold for statutorily blind individuals for 2019 is $2040. For non-blind individuals the monthly income thresholds under substantial gainful activity, SGA is $1220.

Will you be denied social security due to substantial gainful activity?

Yes, if you are working and earn a monthly gross income above the thresholds stated by the SSA then you will straight away be denied without even considering your medical eligibility. This is because income limits is the first thing the SSA takes into account while analyzing an application for the social security claims.

With that being said, there may be some exceptions to the rule such as a low income limit where the person may be able to earn in another type of job that doesn’t needs work in their impairment areas. For instance, a person previously working as a truck driver may not be able to continue sufficient work as the truck driver after a severe accident but may be able to work as a clerk and earn substantial gross income. Similarly, a person earning above income thresholds may not necessarily be considered working under substantial gainful activity, SGA. For instance, a person may be working as an accountant and earning high incomes while on dialysis. In such cases, the person would not be considered working under SGA as they may be highly compensated to complete the task at hand, for example, by providing them permission to take outside help, delay deadlines or hire a freelancer to complete their bookkeeping tasks.

What happens if you have already been approved for SSDI benefits?

You may already be receiving benefits by being eligible for social security medically and non-medically. However, whether you decided to go back to work or started to have improved symptoms of your impairments, you can continue to receive your benefits as long as you earn within the substantial income thresholds. On the other hand, your benefits will be cancelled if your monthly gross income limits exceed as stated under the substantial gainful activity.

You may consult a disability attorney for more details.

About the Author
Ms. Shvarts is the managing attorney for Disability Advocates Group. She opened Disability Advocates Group to assist individuals who became disabled and unable to work to obtain the benefits they need and deserve.  Ms. Shvarts and the rest of the team at Disability Advocates Group are dedicated to assisting individuals obtain Social Security Disability Benefits (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.