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The SGA balancing act: Can I work without compromising my SSI benefits?

On Behalf of | Feb 27, 2024 | Social Security Disability

Substantial gainful activity (SGA) is a term used by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to describe work activity and earnings. It is important for individuals with disabilities to understand SGA when applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) as it can impact Supplemental Security Income (SSI) eligibility.

Defining substantial gainful activity

SGA is not merely employment. It refers to work that:

  • Involves significant physical or mental activities
  • Is done for pay or profit

The SSA sets monetary thresholds for what it considers SGA and generally updates these rates annually. Earnings below this amount may not disqualify you from receiving SSI benefits.

What if I want to try going back to work but I am not sure if I am ready?

There are situations where the SSA will allow you to test your ability to work. This is generally allowed for nine months. During this period, you can earn above the SGA level without losing benefits. The SSA has not put a limit on how much you can earn during this trial period.

After the trial work period, you generally have 36 months during which you can work and still receive benefits for any month your earnings are not substantial.

What if work doesn’t work out?

The SSA provides an option to restart benefits. The process varies depending on the length of time and the reason for the ending of the benefits. In some cases, the SSA will provide up to six months of benefit payments while they review the request.

SGA determinations are complex and carry significant legal implications for SSDI recipients. The SSA’s rules are stringent, and non-compliance can lead to a cessation of benefits. It is beneficial to stay educated and proactive in your dealings with the SSA to ensure you receive the benefits you deserve.


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