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Sequential Evaluation: How Employment Affects Your Disability Claim Step One of the Five-Step Process

Proving an individual’s disability claim requires a five step evaluation, known as the Sequential Evaluation Process.  The claimant (the individual filing for disability benefits) must answer the following five questions:

  1. Are you currently working?
  2. Do you have a severe medical problem that affects your ability to work?
  3. Does your medical problem meet or equal one of Social Security’s listed impairments?
  4. Are you able to do any of your past jobs?
  5. Are there any other jobs out there that you can do?

We’ll examine each question in a series of blog posts. This initial post will focus on step 1:  Are you currently working?

The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) will find that an individual is working if they are performing substantial gainful activity (“SGA”).  No matter what an individual’s medical conditions are, if SSA finds that he or she is performing at SGA, the individual will not be found disabled.

For each year, there is a certain amount of gross income (meaning the amount of income before taxes and other deductions are taken out) that an individual cannot exceed in order to be considered eligible to receive Social Security disability benefits.  However, in my experience, the closer an individual’s gross monthly income is to this particular amount, the more evidence there may be to show that the individual is able to perform SGA.  The amount for the year 2019 is $1,220 per month in gross income.  So, if an individual makes $1,220 or more per month, they are not eligible for Social Security disability benefits.  (Please keep in mind that the amount of SGA is higher for a blind individual.)

It is also important to note that even illegal activity may be SGA.  Therefore, if an individual applying for benefits is making $2,000 per month selling illegal drugs, this could be considered SGA, and they would not be eligible for Social Security disability benefits.

Additionally, if an individual is attending college or other vocational training full-time, that individual could be found ineligible to receive Social Security disability benefits.  Receiving unemployment benefits may also affect your eligibility for Social Security disability benefits due to the fact that a person receiving unemployment certifies that they are capable of working.

Please check in soon for more information on Step 1 of the Sequential Evaluation!  If you have any further questions regarding this topic, please feel free to contact one of the attorneys at Smith Godios Sorensen Inc. toll-free at 877-230-5500.

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