SSDI: What is Substantial Gainful Activity?

Just about everybody needs to work, they have no choice. If they didn’t work for a living, they’d lose their home. They wouldn’t be able to keep the lights on and put food on the table, and they’d eventually have to file bankruptcy.

What can we say? A large percentage of the American population is living check to check. So, if you were to become disabled and you could not work for an extended period of time, you’d probably be very interested in filing a claim for Social Security Disability (SSDI) benefits, especially since you paid into the program with your Social Security taxes.

The issue is that not everybody qualifies for disability benefits. Even if you paid into the program for 20 or 30 years, that doesn’t mean that you’ll automatically be approved.

Before an applicant can be approved for disability benefits, they must: 1) meet the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) definition of a disability, 2) they must have earned enough work credits, and 3) they must not be able to engage in substantial gainful activity (SGA).

Can You Do Other Types of Work?

Supposing you’ve worked long enough to receive SSDI benefits, the key question the SSA will have for you is, “Can you do any other kind of work?” To answer that, the SSA will want to know if you can do any “substantial gainful activity” or SGA.

The SSA defines substantial gainful activity as, a term “used to describe a level of work activity and earnings. Work is ‘substantial’ if it involves doing significant physical or mental activities or a combination of both.” Work is “gainful” when:

  • The individual performs the work for pay,
  • The nature of the work is generally for pay, OR
  • The work is performed for the sake of profit, even if the profit is not realized.

If you can perform any work that meets the above criteria, it will be considered by the SSA in the determination process. If you are capable of engaging in paid work, the SSA will most likely assume that you can do some type of SGA, and as a result you may not be eligible for benefits. For an applicant to be approved for SSDI benefits, their condition has to be so severe that they cannot engage in substantial gainful activity.

Related: Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits

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