Substantial Gainful Activity

The Social Security Administration allows persons receiving Social Security Disability, limited earnings, without having to forfeit monthly benefits. For the year 2013, the maximum that an individual can earn monthly is $1,040. If an individual either earns more than $1,010 or is capable of earning more than that sum, the Social Security Administration may terminate disability benefits.

The maximum monthly income which constitutes Substantial Gainful Activity, is calculate annually by the Social Security Administration, based on the National Wage Index, which is one recognized measure of inflation or the cost of living.

In calculating wages for determining Substantial Gainful Activity, paid time off; vacation; personal holidays and sick pay are not counted. Further, impairment related work expenses and subsidies are deducted.

Substantial gainful activity is work which must be both substantial and gainful, that is, it involves doing significant and productive physical or mental duties and doing it or intending to do it for pay or profit. The “trial period” for Substantial Gainful Activity, is a 9-month period. During the trial 9 month period, a Social Security Disability Beneficiary may keep both disability benefits and salary. If after the trial period, a claimant’s work ceases or is reduced below a monthly Substantial Gainful Activity level, then the work attempt may be classified as unsuccessful.

In assessing the potential for Substantial Gainful Activity, the Social Security Administration will often assess whether a claimant has transferable skills. Three steps are typically investigated:

  1. Can the Claimant stay within the same occupational area that represents the primary job history of the worker? For example, if the worker has held 2 or 3 jobs in the “machine trades,” then it makes good sense to attempt to find similar or related titles in the same “machine trades” area.
  2. Can the Claimant stay within the same work field or a closely related field? This will insure that a person with a good work history in machining for instance will be able to transfer to similar or related jobs.
  3. Can jobs be identified within the same occupational area and the same work field that are within the claimant’s residual functional capacity?

Where a case turns on the issue of transferable skills, both the law and principles of transferable skills analysis articulated by the vocational rehabilitee profession have a bearing on the outcome. Generally, where jobs skills are unique to a specific work process in a particular industry or work setting, (e.g. carpenter), skills will not be found to be without the need for more than a minimal vocational adjustment by way of tools, work processes, work settings or industry. Should SSA find that the former carpenter is now limited to sedentary work exertion, he or she would most likely find few occupations performed in the seated position which utilizes the specific work skills learned and used in construction carpentry and may be unable to find transferability.

Once jobs have been identified within the same occupational area and work field, the final step is to identify jobs that are equal to or less than the individual’s residual functional capacity.

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