social security benefits form
Filling a social security benefits form, with an eye glass on side

Substantial gainful activity (SGA) is a term used by the Social Security Administration to describe a person’s ability to perform significant duties for pay or profit over a reasonable period of time. To be eligible to receive disability benefits, a person must be unable to perform substantial gainful activity (SGA). If someone’s earned income exceeds a certain amount on a monthly basis, this is considered engagement in SGA.

What Is Considered SGA?

The amount of monthly income that qualifies as SGA will depend on the person’s disability. The Social Security Act has set a higher SGA amount for individuals who are statutorily blind, while federal regulations specify a lower amount for nonblind people who are disabled. These amounts normally change annually depending on the average national wage index (NWI).

Monthly SGA Amount in 2020

In 2020, the monthly SGA amount for statutorily blind people claiming SSDI will be $2110. For non-blind people, the monthly amount will be $1260.

Engaging in a Trial Work Period

A person who receives disability benefits will be able to try returning to the workforce. The Social Security Act provides a trial work period as an incentive to help beneficiaries earn income and still collect benefits.

SGA for Blind Individuals

SGA for the blind will apply to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, but not for SSI. The formula used to determine SGA for blind individuals is established by law and is only applicable if there’s a cost-of-living increase in effect for December of the year when the SGA amount would be specified. This formula will apply in 2020 because of the cost-of-living increase to be in effect in December 2019.

The formula used to calculate SGA for the blind in 2020 is the 1994 SGA amount multiplied by the ratio of the NWI of 1992 to that of 2018, or, if it’s a larger amount, the SGA amount for 2019 rather than 2018.

SGA for Non-Blind Individuals

This amount will apply to both SSI and Social Security benefits. The formula used to calculate the SGA amount is similar to that used for blind individuals. This amount is determined by calculating the 2000 SGA amount multiplied by the NWI ratio for 1998 to that of 2018. If the amount is larger, the formula will use the 2019 SGA amount.

Taking this into account, individuals can determine the SGA amount and discover whether or not they qualify for disability benefits.