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SGA and SSD: A Closer Look


An inability to work, or more specifically an inability to engage in substantial gainful activity, is one of the key elements of a Social Security Disability claim. Applicants must prove they have certain medical conditions that are disabling (i.e. substantially interfere with at least one everyday activity). But a disability is not just a medical issue. It’s also a vocational, educational, and economic issue.

So, a Social Security Disability claim is a two-part claim. A Tampa Social Security Disability lawyer must prove the medical and vocational elements of this claim. One without the other is like John Lennon without Paul McCartney. The Beatles wouldn’t have been a smash hit without both of them, and an SSD claim goes nowhere without both elements.

Does Volunteer Work Count as SGA?

SGA doesn’t necessarily mean working for pay. Sometimes, “work-like” activity can count as SGA. Some examples include:

  • The “volunteer” position would otherwise be a paid position (church volunteer work as a bus driver is a good example),
  • Volunteer hours exceed more than eight or ten a week, and
  • The claimant volunteers at a family-owned business.

For example, if you volunteer at a library stocking shelves for 20 hours a week, the SSA can take into consideration the physical demands of the job (carrying and shelving books) as well as the significant number of hours worked (half of a normal workweek) to determine that the volunteer position should be counted as SGA.

Additionally, the rule is subjective. Personal assistants are paid, but to the SGA, household chores are never SGA.

Non-Standard Employment

Many people no longer work traditional nine-to-five jobs. The SGA rules take these differences into account.

Some employers pay disabled workers extra, to help them overcome employment barriers and gain experience in the workforce (subsidized employment). Other people receive extra pay because the business is a family business (sheltered employment).

The over-and-above pay doesn’t count for SGA determination purposes. The agency uses multiple factors to determine whether earnings include a subsidy and to calculate the approximate value of the subsidy.

To calculate irregular income (self-employed, working odd jobs, etc.), the SSA uses one of two special formulas to calculate whether your work is SGA. These formulas are called the “Countable Income Test” or the “Three Tests.” Which test the SSA uses will depend on when your business was started and why the SSA is reviewing your work activity.

Passive income, such as money from investments or retirement funds, isn’t considered SGA. But passive income can affect your eligibility for Supplemental Security Income if it’s above the income limits for the program.

Can I Work Above SGA When I’m Already Receiving Disability Benefits?

Some people who initially qualified for disability benefits become healthy enough to work. Social Security periodically revisits approved disability cases to ensure that recipients still qualify for benefits.

If you’re already getting Social Security disability and you begin working above the level of substantial gainful activity, the SSA can terminate your benefits. But generally, the agency gives you some leeway, allowing for a disability benefits to earned income transition, before ending your benefits altogether.

 Reach Out to a Hard-Working Hillsborough County Lawyer 

Injury victims are entitled to important financial benefits. For a free consultation with an experienced Social Security Disability lawyer in Tampa, contact Kobal Law. We do not charge upfront legal fees in these matters.

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