Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA)

Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) is used to describe a level of work activity and earnings. The performance of significant physical and/or mental activities in work for pay or profit, or in work of a type generally performed for pay or profit, regardless of the legality of the work. SSA evaluates the work activity of persons claiming or receiving disability benefits under Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), and/or claiming benefits because of a disability (other than blindness) under Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Under both programs, SSA uses earnings guidelines to evaluate work activity to decide whether the work activity is substantial gainful activity and whether the individual is considered disabled under the law. means the performance of significant physical and/or mental activities in work for pay or profit, or in work of a type generally performed for pay or profit, regardless of the legality of the work.

Generally, if you are employed and have “countable earnings” over $980 per month in 2009 ($940 in 2008), you are considered to be engaging in Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA). If you are blind, the SGA level is $1,640 in 2009 ($1,570 in 2008). These figures are automatically adjusted each year. SGA levels for other years may be found in the table below.

If you are self-employed, the SSA does not consider your income alone when determining if you are engaging in SGA, since your actual income may not be the same as the value of your work activity. See Self-Employment Income and SGA for details about how SSA evaluates Self-Employment Income for purposes of determining whether or not you are engaging in Substantial Gainful Activity.

Effective January 2001, SSA will ordinarily consider an employee whose earnings are equal to or less than the SGA amount not to be engaging in SGA. SSA will go beyond looking at earnings only when circumstances indicate that an employee may actually be engaging in SGA or might be in a position to defer or suppress earnings — for example, an individual working for a small corporation owned by a relative or by the individual. If evidence shows the individual is in a position to defer or suppress his/her earnings, than the work activity is comparable to an individual who is self-employed.

The effects of engaging in SGA are very different in the two programs. See SGA – SSI for more information on how SGA affects SSI (Title XVI) recipients; and see SGA – SSDI (Title II) for information on how engaging in SGA affects SSDI (Title II) beneficiaries and their dependents.

The table below shows SGA levels for earlier periods:

Effective Date SGA Blind SGA
January 2009 $980 $1,640
January 2008 940 1,570
January 2007 900 1,500
January 2006 860 1,450
January 2005 830 1,380
January 2004 810 1,350
January 2003 800 1,330
January 2002 780 1,300
January 2001 740 1,240
January 2000 700 1,170
July 1999 700 1,110
January 1999 500 1,110
January 1998 500 1,050

NOTE: For Title II beneficiaries, SSA counts the gross monthly income earned in the calendar month, rather than what was received, based on pay dates.

Subsidies and Special Conditions

Subsidy and special condition are SSA’s names for support an individual receives on the job that may result in the individual receiving more pay than the actual value of the services being performed. Subsidy is support provided by the employer. Special conditions are generally provided by someone other than the employer, for example a vocation rehabilitation agency.

SSA considers the existence of subsidy and special conditions when making an SGA decision. Only earning that represent the real value of the work being performed is used to determine if the work is at the SGA level.

SGA Determination Process

In making SGA determinations, the SSA claims representative will contact Title II beneficiaries. In some cases, the review will be handled by mail or telephone, but in most cases it will be conducted in the local SSA office. The claims representative needs information from the individual’s employer and/or may refer the case for a medical determination to determine whether the individual continues to have a disabling condition. The claims representative will request information from the individual and their employer regarding extra support and supervision supplied, and special accommodations and arrangements made, to enable individuals to obtain and maintain employment. This form is called the Work Activity Report and is available online or available at the local social security office. Communication should occur, with all parties submitting information to ensure accurate presentation of employment situations.