What Is Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA)?

SGA Is Used to Determine Disability

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Substantial Gainful Activity - A Disability Factor

When applying for SSDI (Social Security Disability Income) or SSI (Supplemental Security Income) benefits, SGA (substantial gainful activity) is used as a factor to decide if you have a disability. SGA is also used as a factor to decide if your disability continues when you are already receiving benefits (except during the trial work period.)

    Social Security Administration Definition of Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA)

    According to the Social Security Administration, "We evaluate the work activity of persons claiming or receiving disability benefits under SSDI, and/or claiming benefits because of a disability (other than blindness) under SSI. Under both programs, we use earnings guidelines to evaluate your work activity to decide whether the work activity is substantial gainful activity and whether we may consider you disabled under the law. While this is only one of the tests used to decide if you are disabled, it is a critical threshold in disability evaluation."

    What Is a Trial Work Period (TWP)?

    According to the Social Security Administration, "The trial work period is an incentive for the personal rehabilitation efforts of SSDI beneficiaries who work. The trial work period lets you test your ability to work or run a business for at least 9 months and receive full SSDI benefits no matter how high your earnings are if your impairment does not improve."

    The History of SGA

    The Social Security Administration had not increased the amount of average monthly earnings that generally demonstrate substantial gainful activity (SGA) for people with an impairment other than blindness since January 1, 1990. Nine years later, in 1999, the reassessment of guidelines resulted in an increase to the earning amount used to determine SGA.

    The revision raised the SGA earning limit from $500 to $700 per month, effective July 1, 1999. The change applied to Social Security disability benefits under title II of the Social Security Act and to Supplemental Security Income benefits under title XVI of the Social Security Act.

    Several new rules took effect January 1, 2001, that allow more persons with disabilities to test their ability to work without fear of losing their cash benefits and important health care coverage. The new rules were part of a package of proposed regulations announced by President Clinton as part of the 10th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

    The first new rule increased SGA to $740 a month and established that SGA will be automatically adjusted annually based on increases in the national average wage index.

    The second rule applied to the Trial Work Period and increased that amount to $530 per month also linking annual changes to increases in the national average wage index. After completion of nine trial work months, the SGA level is used to determine whether earnings are substantial or not. If earnings fall below the SGA level, full benefits generally continue. If earnings are higher than the SGA level, cash benefits are normally suspended while medical benefits continue.

    For non-blind individuals, the monthly SGA amount
    SGA for 2001: $740/month
    SGA for 2002: $780/month
    SGA for 2003: $800/month
    SGA for 2004: $810/month
    SGA for 2005: $830/month
    SGA for 2006: $860/month
    SGA for 2007: $900/month
    SGA for 2015: $1090/month
    SGA Amounts Increase Annually


    Social Security Administration, www.ssa.gov