Updated November 6, 2020
Paulette Balin, Principal Attorney at Balin Law, discusses the new 2021 Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) income amounts along with SGA exceptions (Transcript updated with 2021 SGA Income Limits)
Video Transcript – Updated with 2021 SGA Limits
Hi there, my name is Paulette Balin and I’m the principal at Balin Law.
I am happy to discuss with you today a subject called substantial gainful work activity, the government refers to it as “SGA.” And the newest number that came out for 2021, it just came out this week, is $1,310 (an increase from $1,260 in 2020). In other words, if you are working and making more than $1,310, you can’t even pursue a disability claim because social security will not process it. They will say that you’re over this threshold amount, forget about it, you can’t pursue a disability claim. And I’m here to share with you some of the exceptions to that rule. There aren’t a lot, but they are juicy and I want to share them with you.
SGA Exception #1: impairment related work expenses
First of all, let’s say you are working and making $3,000 a month gross. You can take away from that $3,000 a month gross any out-of-pocket work related expenses. So if, let’s say, you’re incontinent and you have to pay for Pampers or you have to pay co-pays, you can’t deduct insurance costs, but you can deduct co-pays, deductibles, and you’ve got these huge expenses.
Let’s say you need to drive with a scooter, and you need to install a ramp at your house so that you can take the scooter with you to your minivan to drive to work. Well, a specially equipped minivan or the cost of installing that ramp, even though there’s certainly a personal nature to those, those are also considered impairment related work expenses. So what we can do is add up all those costs of the ramp and the special minivan, etc., and amortize it over the cost of a year and be able to come down to less than that threshold amount of $1,310.
SGA Exception #2: income averaging
Another thing that is a factor that we can play with is some months you may have a double paycheck, in which case your monthly income is more than one $1,310, and other months less. Well what we can do is add up your income, if it’s, let’s say at the same employer, and just divide it by the number of months you’re working to come up with less than $1,310. That’s called income averaging. And according to the social security rules you’re supposed to compute it either way that is going to benefit you. So income averaging is another tool we can use.
SGA Exception #3: special accommodations
I also want to talk about special accommodations. I had a client once whose uncle owned a small business, and my client got paid quite well, but he was allowed to go into the back room and sleep whenever he wanted to and otherwise come and go at his leisure. So, the true value of his work activity was compensated at a rate far above what any colleague of his was paid. So we were able to get statements from his relative employer indicating that his compensation was not commensurate with what he was actually doing for the business. And as a result, we were able to get him under that magical amount of, now, $1,310 a month. So, those subsidies are really important.
So those are some exceptions to those magical rules. Another subject that I don’t want to get in too heavily here, but I’m happy to discuss with you, is before your case is resolved, what happens if you give it a go and go back to work for a very short period of time, not more than six months? If you went back to work with great hopes, but you found that your impairment kept you from being able to do that work, then that short stint of work activity can be excused as what’s called an unsuccessful work attempt.
We can help you navigate these SGA exceptions
So our job is to help our clients navigate all these SGA exceptions so that you can move forward with a meritorious disability claim.