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How does "substantial gainful activity" affect SSD benefits?

Many people in Missouri who are considering applying for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits are uncertain if a return to work will mean that benefits will terminate. The answer depends upon the concept of "substantial gainful activity" as defined in the federal regulations that govern SSD claims.

The rule is easily stated: a person may work while receiving SSD benefits as long as the amount of income does not exceed the limit for SGA. SGA is defined by the Social Security Administration as being able to earn a specified gross amount of monthly income. A person who earns more than this figure is deemed to be engaging in SGA and is not entitled to disability benefits. A person who earns less than the SGA amount is deemed to be disabled and eligible to receive SSD benefits. The SGA amount may vary from year to year depending upon economic conditions in the country as a whole. The SGA amount for blind people in 2017 is $1,950 per month and $1,170 for non-blind people.

Calculating a person's SGA amount begins by determining the person's monthly salary or wage. Once the average monthly earnings are established, SSA makes a number of adjustments to determine whether a person's wage represents the person's true earning ability. For example, a person whom the SSA has adjudged to be disabled may continue to work at a different job. If the compensation is judged to be more than the job would pay in the open market, the amount of extra pay is treated by the SSA as a subsidy and subtracted from the employee's SGA limit.

If the employee incurs medically necessary expenses, such as cab fares, to travel to and from work, these expenses can be deducted from the monthly wage to calculate the individual's SGA amount. So long as the person's net earnings amount as adjusted is less than the specified SGA rate, the person is eligible to receive SSD benefits.

Many factors can affect a person's SGA amount and continuing eligibility for benefits. Anyone with questions or who has received an adverse determination of an application for benefits may wish to consult a lawyer who handles SSD benefit claims for an evaluation of the medical evidence, the SSA's initial determination and a recommendation on the advisability of making an appeal.

Source: Social Security Administration, "What's New In 2017?," accessed on Feb. 11, 2017

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