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Substantial Gainful Activity what does this include?

If you have considered applying for SSDI benefits and you have done much research you will have discovered that you do not qualify for SSDI benefits if you perform work that is defined as substantial gainful activity (SGA). Currently, the Social Security Administration (SSA) defines this level of work as earning $1,090 or more a month from working, or $1,820 for blind people.

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Claimants who apply for SSDI benefits and who are performing work which is substantial and/or gainful will be denied SSDI benefits, regardless of the severity of their condition. Did you know, however, that there are exclusions which the SSA will consider when making their determination whether you are performing substantial gainful activity?

Activities the SSA will not consider substantial gainful activity


Not all activity is considered substantial gainful activity. In fact, the SSA does not consider going to school, participating in normal social activities, performing daily chores, going to physical therapy, or maintaining your personal hygiene to be substantial or gainful work.

It’s important to note, however, that although the SSA will not automatically disqualify you for SSDI when they are initially evaluating your SSDI application for any of the activities listed above, after further evaluation of your claim by the Disability Determination Services (DDS) office the DDS could decide that you are not disabled based on your daily activities.

For example, if you stated that you could not work due to a severe back condition but each day you go ride your horse, work out a couple of hours, and go to the gym, the SSA is likely to conclude that if you can perform these daily activities you could also perform at least a sedentary job.

Can I volunteer and get SSDI benefits?


Volunteer work is a bit more complex, but it’s important to remember that volunteer work can be considered substantial gainful activity, even if you are not getting paid. Although there are certain volunteer activities which are not considered substantial gainful activity per the Domestic Volunteer Service Act of 1973 (i.e., Retired Senior Volunteer program, Foster Grandparent Program, Volunteer in Service to America, etc.), other volunteer activities can be considered SGA.

So what type of volunteer work may indicate that you are not disabled? It’s important to understand that the SSA is trying to determine whether your impairment keeps you from performing work. With this in mind, consider the following situations:

Debbie volunteers for 35 hours per week at the YMCA.
John volunteers for 30 hours building houses for Habitat for Humanity.
Simon spends 30 hours per week volunteering at his family’s donut shop.

Although none of these positions are paid, the SSA will assume that Debbie could possibly make a substantial wage if she were paid, John’s volunteer activities are very physical and he probably is not too impaired to perform paid work, and Simon, if paid, would also make a substantial wage, which means he could find paid employment.

What about passive income?

The SSA will not consider income which is passive when determining whether you are performing substantial gainful activity. For instance, if you have investments from rental property, investment accounts, retirement income, or you have inherited money this is not considered a wage or income.

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