The Social Security Disability Insurance fund is a collective coffer that is paid into by working, tax-paying citizens to protect them if they should become disabled and unable to work. Therefore, it stands to reason that a person must demonstrate that the medical condition they claim prevents them from engaging in gainful employment is true, real, and sufficient to qualify for benefits from the fund.
Unfortunately, it does happen that some people will try to cheat the system. Worse still, some will be suspected of cheating the system when they have not. One of the most common ways of cheating the system is to present one’s self as disabled while maintaining substantial gainful activity (SGA) on the side.
What Is SGA or “Substantial Gainful Activity”?
Substantial gainful activity is any activity that generates an income that, given the person’s circumstances and type of disability, would disqualify the person from receiving disability benefits.
Substantial gainful activity, as of 2019, is defined by the Social Security Administration as an activity that generates $2,040 in monthly earnings for a legally blind person, or $1,220 in monthly earnings for a non-legally blind person.
The NOLO Legal Encyclopedia goes into greater detail in defining the phrase. They define the operative words in the term as follows:
Substantial: “Substantial work activity means that you are doing significant physical or mental activities. Work can be substantial even if you can only work part-time, or even if you don’t do as much or get paid as much as you did before you became disabled.”
Gainful: “A gainful activity is one that you get paid to do. However, even if you don’t get paid, the SSA may conclude that your work is gainful if it is an activity that people usually get paid to do.”
What if I Am Mistakenly Accused of Participating in SGA?
The review process for the average SSDI claim is, on average, between one month and 90 days. Seventy percent of claims are denied, and the appeals process can take years.
In a recent article, we described some of the measures a person can take to help survive the often interminable waiting period and appeals process when attempting to obtain social security disability benefits. While it may be unusual, it is possible that an applicant could be wrongfully accused of engaging in SGA during the interim.
If this happens to you, there are a few things you can do to defend yourself and secure your right to receive benefits.
Surviving the Interim Without Triggering an SGA Accusation
Given the monetary limits of what it officially means to engage in SGA, you are armed with valuable knowledge that can help you survive the wait to receive your SSI benefits. If you are unable to work, but can in some way earn less than $2,040/month (if legally blind) or $1,220/month (if not legally blind), this can help make up for some of your lost income until your benefits start coming in.
However, it is important to keep in mind that the SSA will investigate your claims and attempt to verify that you are truly disabled and incapable of engaging in full-time work.
Preventing a False SGA Accusation
If you are accused of taking money under the table, it can be difficult to prove otherwise. Your best bet, when engaging in the SSDI application process, is to document your activities thoroughly. Keep receipts, bank statements and track all financial activity carefully.
It would be a good idea to have statements available from trustworthy people to verify your whereabouts and activities at key points in time.
When to Access Legal Representation
Dealing with the SSA alone can be a daunting challenge. Those with the means to best survive the long waiting periods and appeals process are most likely to be disapproved on the grounds of SGA. This is where an attorney who specializes in social security claims can prove invaluable. Your legal representative can give your application the best chance of approval and help defend you against any challenges to your claim.