Social Security and Work

Posted on June 28th, 2018

SSA defines “disability” not as severe back pain, coronary artery disease, bipolar illness, etc.. “Disability”

Is defined as the inability to perform “substantial gainful activity” (SGA). SGA is defined in 2018 as gross monthly earnings of $1,180.00. In 2017, SGA was $1,170.00. SGA increases each year, generally consistent with COLA adjustments. In 2000, for example, SGA was $700.00. If one is legally blind, and that is as specifically defined by SSA, not by you, your doctor, other public or private agencies, then SGA is $1,970.00 in 2018, $1,950.00 in 2017, and was $1,170.00 in 2000. Not every visual problem is statutory blindness. The basic SSA definition of statutory blindness is visual acuity of 20/200 or less, in the better eye with best correction.

SSA is reasonably liberal in its provisions as it would prefer people work, or try to work, and pay money into the trust funds instead of being disabled and taking money out of the trust funds.

As SSA allows someone to work, part-time, below SGA levels, it would be illegal or unethical to advise one to stop. There is a difference if no needs to work to pay rent or buy groceries as opposed to just wanting to get out of the house or to put money savings. A claimant must keep in mind that very few people are “disabled: per se, because they meet or equal a listing. The great majority of claims are approved for too much pain, too much fatigue, too much depression, etc.. SSA adjudicators at all levels, including and especially the ALJ’s, are given significant discretion to believe or disbelieve a claimant or his or her doctors. If you are working 20 per week, even if below SGA, I cannot argue you are totally disabled. The best I can argue is that you are partially disabled. By working, you are showing/telling the ALJ/adjudicator my pain/fatigue/etc. is not as severe as otherwise alleged. If that severe, likely, you would be working zero hours. This is working before being found disabled is very counterproductive. If one needs to work to exist, maybe there is little choice, but in a more perfect world, one is better off not working until after a claim is approved.

Having said that working and applying for disability can be quite dangerous, it is less dangerous to work once you have already been found disabled as compared to applying for disability.

Wages of $1,181.00 in 2018 is per se preclusive of entitlement to benefits. There is no partial or percentage disability. You are either totally disabled or not disabled at all. Wages in excess of the SGA limit result in a total preclusion of entitlement. If you earn $5.00 in excess of SGA, you benefits are not reduced by $5.00. You could be, proverbially medically dead and already 6 feet under the ground in the wooden box, but if earning $1,180.00 or more you are simply “not disabled”, period. Depending on the job and the length of the work relationship, SSA will not select one arbitrary month, but will average the earnings to get a monthly rate. Jobs of a short duration, less than 6 months, and preferably 3 months or less, can be an “unsuccessful work attempt” (UWA) and not SGA.

A claimant must pay very strict attention to his or her earnings. SSA will not keep track of it for you. SSA can determine, after the fact that you earned too must earlier. Sometimes this will preclude entitlement entirely and sometimes just a later alleged onset date. One is not allowed to engage in SGA at all during the 5 month waiting period.

The above rules are for employees, receiving wages. The rules are somewhat different for those who are self-employment. Countable income for the self-employed is income less allowance expenses. If this is still more than $1,180.00 in 2018, SGA is found. Under certain circumstances, SGA can still be found if net income, after expenses, is less than SGA. If the self-employed person does the same type of duties that an unimpaired person does to make a living, this will be found to be SGA. There mere fact that someone works 40 hours per week but loses money or doesn’t money or doesn’t make much because he or she is in a bad business, does not escape the finding of SGA.

There is also an issue of “income related work expenses” (IRWE), that allows a worker to deduct certain expenses directly related to enabling one to work. The classic example of this is the expenses of a seeing eye dog for a blind person. These IRWE expenses, if you countable, are deducted from the wages/self-employment before seeing if over the SGA limit.