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Facts About Substantial Gainful Activity And Social Security Disability


If you are applying for either of the federal disability programs managed by the Social Security Administration (SSA), you have probably already discovered that complying with the strict eligibility rules is key. To qualify for benefits under Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), you must have accumulated sufficient credits through your work history over the last few years before applying. For Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, your assets and income must be valued under the threshold amount set by SSA. Both programs require an applicant to meet the medical requirement: You must have a disabling medical condition that prevents you from working or imposes significant limitations upon earning an income, and this condition is expected to last at least one year or result in death.

In evaluating an application for SSDI or SSI, SSA will review a factor termed “Substantial Gainful Activity” (SGA) – a concept that also impacts your rights even after you were approved for disability benefits. A Maryland Social Security disability lawyer can explain how SGA affects your initial application and future status, but an overview should be helpful.

Basics of SGA

 The general concept of disability does not focus solely on the disabling medical condition, but it relates to whether applicants are able to earn enough to support themselves. As such, Substantial Gainful Activity is measured in terms of dollar value. If you make more than the SGA for a given year, you will not qualify for SSDI/SSI disability benefits. For 2022, the threshold for SGA is $1,350 and $2,260 for blind individuals applying for SSDI; SSA does not impose SGA limits upon SSI applicants who are blind.

If you are making SGA by working when you apply, denial is likely. SSA assumes that you are not disabled and can earn a living. Note that SSA does not include income through investments, interest, and other non-employment sources when calculating SGA. 

Earnings Above SGA 

Many SSDI/SSI recipients might consider going back to work, which could mean losing benefits when income reaches or exceeds SGA. Fortunately, there are options through SSA’s Ticket to Work program, which allows you to test the waters and see how much you can earn. There are three stages:

  1. The Trial Work Period (TWP) allows you to earn as much as you want and still receive benefits. If you earn more than SGA, you accumulate 1 month. When you accumulate 9 nonconsecutive months within 5 years, you move onto the next stage.
  2. Your Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE) lasts 36 months, and you will only receive benefits for months that your earnings fall below SGA.
  3. If your benefits ended after EPE because you were consistently making SGA, you enter the stage of Expedited Reinstatement (EXR). You can start receiving benefits again without a new application. 

A Maryland SSDI/SSI Attorney Can Advise You on SGA Issues

To learn more about how SGA affects disability applications and benefits, please contact the Law Offices of Steinhardt, Siskind and Lieberman, LLC. We are happy to set up a no-cost case review at our offices in Glen Burnie, Owings Mills, Ellicott City, or Annapolis, MD.


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