Earn More and Still Qualify for Disability, say Recent SSA Rules

Good news…On December 29, 2000, the Social Security Administration (SSA) published final regulations that increase the amount of monthly earnings a person can have from work and still be found disabled.

What am I referring to? Let’s start from the beginning. In order to be eligible for SSA disability benefits (both SSDI and SSI), you cannot engage in “substantial gainful activity (SGA).” What is SGA? In general terms, work is considered by SSA to be “substantial” if it involves doing significant physical or mental activities. In short, about any type of work will be considered substantial by SSA. SSA defines work as “gainful,” when you have monthly earnings that exceed a certain dollar amount.

It is important to understand the rule applies only to income from your work (i.e. wages or self-employment), it does not apply to other income you may have from investments, etc.

Whether you are engaging in “substantial gainful activity” is critical to your SSA disability claim. Why? Because if you are engaging in SGA, you cannot be found disabled…even if you have very serious physical and/or psychological impairments.

For the past several years, if you had monthly work earnings over $700, SSA would deny your disability claim because you were engaging in SGA and presumed to be able to work.

In December 2000, SSA increased the SGA amount from $700 to $740. This increase is effective as of January 2001. You may be saying…big deal! However, it is newsworthy for a couple of reasons. First, SSA had not increased the monthly SGA amount since July 1999. Second, and most important, SSA will now review the SGA amount automatically on an annual basis and will tie increases to a wage index. The SGA amount can only go up or stay the same, it cannot go down. This is good news because the SGA amount should automatically increase every year without SSA having to convene a committee to increase it.

Please be advised that the SGA amount does not apply to people filing disability claims based on blindness.

Best of luck in your pursuit of disability benefits and remember never to quit!

Scott E. Davis is a social security and long-term disability insurance attorney in Phoenix, Arizona. Mr. Davis represents clients throughout the United States. Although Mr. Davis has experience representing clients with a broad spectrum of physical and/or psychological disorders, the majority of his disability practice is devoted to representing individuals with chronic pain and chronic fatigue disorders. In almost every case, a fee is charged only if his client obtains benefits.

Mr. Davis invites your questions and inquiries regarding representation via telephone (602) 482-4300, or email: harris.davis@azbar.org</i

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