In assessing whether you qualify non-medically, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will initially look to whether you are right now working. In the event that you are working with low income wages below the stated threshold and not procuring a high income, you won't consequently be denied disability benefits, however completing a considerable measure of work, (for example, earning above a certain threshold) means that you'll be denied benefits.
As a matter of fact, in order to be able to earn disability benefits, you must be unable to perform any kind of substantial gainful activity (SGA).
** Please note that an inability to perform work under SGA is not the same as being unable to find work due to worker's laid off during COVID-19.
How do I know if I earn under substantial gainful activity?
Any kind of work that earns you a certain monthly dollar amount would be considered as substantial gainful activity, SGA by the Social Security Administration, SSA.
The amount considered under substantial gainful activity for 2021 is $1310 for non-blind (increased from $1270 in 2020), disability claimants and $2190 (increased from $2110 in 2020) for blind disability claimants, for year 2021. If your earnings are above these thresholds, then you will not be considered as eligible for social security claims by the SSA. This means that the SSA considers people earning above those threshold as capable enough to find employment in 'competitive environments'. While analyzing whether you qualify for social security non-medically, the SSA would not consider income from any other sources than your work as substantial gainful activity. These sources may include income from trusts, gifts, investments or interests.
While the above mentioned disability benefits amounts is considered a default payment, it is adjusted each year according to the COLA Requirements. These depend on the amount of work you have done, along with your age at the time of start of your disability, etc. The COLA amounts are adjusted according to the AIME Index and is normalized keeping in view the rates of inflation each year. You may read more on COLA Requirements for 2021 here.
Exceptions to the substantial gainful activity, 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.
Although the income thresholds for SGA change every year according to the National Average Wage Index, the rules would pretty much stay the same unless stated otherwise. This means that earning below the income threshold may not always means acceptance of your social security claims or sometimes even earning higher than the threshold may not always mean denial. Here's how it works:
- Low Income Limits
Having lower income limits do not necessarily mean you are unable to perform work. The SSA will look deeply into your medical condition and analyze the type of activity you engaged in earlier to earn – the SSA examiner may also suggest an alternative to the type of job for a decent earning activity that correlates with your medical condition. For instance, if you worked as a bus driver but became disabled due to lost limbs in an accident, the SSA would not straight away label you as unable to perform work unless your physician or medical reports indicate otherwise. You may be considered for job as a teacher where you would not necessarily need the limbs as in your previous job as a bus driver.
- Higher Income Limits
Just as lower income limits do not necessarily imply an inability to perform work under Substantial Gainful Activity, a higher income limit does not mean a person was performing substantial gainful activity, SGA.
There could be many reasons a person may be earning a higher income but still not working normally under SGA, such as:
1. The person requires special assistance from other employees in performing the work
2. They were compensated at work such as being allowed to work irregular hours or taking frequent rest breaks to complete the tasks
3. They were provided with special equipment or assigned work especially suited to their impairment
4. The person was able to work only because of specially arranged circumstances (for instance, other people helped the claimant commute to and from work)
5. The person was permitted to work at a lower standard of productivity or efficiency than other employees, and/or
6. They were given the opportunity to work despite their disability because of a favor such as a family relationship, past association with the employer, or the employer's concern for the claimant's welfare.
For more information on calculating your earnings under SGA you may consult a social security attorney.