What Does Substantial Gainful Activity Mean?
Substantial gainful activity (SGA) represents the monthly threshold salary used by the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) to qualify individuals for disability benefits. The SSA updates the dollar amount annually to reflect inflation and generally maintains a higher threshold for statutorily blind individuals.
- The substantial gainful activity (SGA) is the level of salary that can be earned that allows an individual to qualify for Social Security disability benefits.
- If an individual makes less than the SGA threshold, they qualify for disability benefits.
- The 2021 SGA amount for non-blind individuals is $1,310 per month and $2,190 per month for blind individuals.
- There are two key types of Social Security disability benefits—Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplement Security Income (SSI).
- SSDI pays individuals who have paid into the Social Security program via payroll deductions, while SSI pays individuals who meet financial requirements whether they have been employed or not.
Understanding Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA)
Substantial gainful activity represents the amount of monthly income below which an individual becomes eligible for disability benefits under Social Security. The SSA uses the SGA amount as a key determinant in whether it considers a person disabled for the purposes of its programs. Individuals unable to engage in activities that earn them more than the monthly SGA threshold qualify for disability payments. The SSA does not consider those capable of engaging in activities that earn more than the threshold disabled for the purposes of its programs.
The threshold amounts used to calculate the SGA amount differ for blind and non-blind individuals. Those who meet the SSA’s statutory definition of blindness have a higher SGA threshold than those who do not, which means blind individuals can generally earn more per month than non-blind individuals before they become ineligible for disability benefits.
The SSA set the 2021 SGA amount for non-blind individuals at $1,310 per month. This means that any individual able to engage in employment that earns $1,310 or more per month will not meet the eligibility criteria to receive disability benefits in 2021. The SSA set the SGA threshold for blind individuals at $2,190 in 2021.
SSDI vs. SSI
The SSA provides disability payments to individuals through two programs. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) covers individuals who have paid into the Social Security program via payroll deductions.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) pays benefits to disabled individuals who meet a specific set of financial eligibility requirements, whether previously employed or not. For non-blind individuals, the SSA uses the SGA threshold to determine eligibility for benefits from either program.
For statutorily blind individuals, however, the SSA only uses the SGA to determine eligibility for payments under the SSDI program. For blind individuals who receive disability payments under the SSI program, the SSA does not use SGA thresholds in its initial determination of eligibility.
Once the SSA approves disability benefits for a given citizen, it allows that person to continue to receive benefits for a brief period after that person becomes able to re-enter the workforce and earn more than the SGA amount each month. This provides an incentive for disabled people to seek gainful employment and re-enter the workforce in a different capacity for the long term, if possible.