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What is "substantial gainful activity"?

The term "disability" can encompass a wide variety of physical and mental disorders. Some people in New York have disabilities that are so debilitating that they are unable to work on a daily basis. However, there are others who may be able to adjust to their disability, maintaining at least some form of employment and earning an income. For purposes of Social Security Disability benefits, the difference is whether or not the Social Security Administration makes a determination that your employment consists of "substantial gainful activity."

So, what is substantial gainful activity? Unfortunately, there is no one clear answer. It can be a bit subjective. A person in New York could be involved in gainful activity while living with a disability, but is it substantial? If it is, that person may not be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits. So, the real question might be, what is substantial? According to the Social Security Administration, to be considered substantial, the work must involve "significant physical or mental activities, or a combination of both."

Of course, that description of the term "substantial" also includes some subjectivity. In the end, it will come down to the evaluation conducted by an employee with the SSA.

If a New York resident who applies for SSD benefits meets the medical requirements and the work history requirements, but is still employed in a productive capacity and earning an income, the application for benefits might be denied. Those who might be in this type of situation will likely need to get more information about their own unique circumstances before submitting an application for SSD benefits.

Source:, "What is substantial gainful activity?," accessed Feb. 25, 2017

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