Every type of government program has a gateway in one sense or another, an initial litmus test that filters applicants’ eligibility and determines whether their eligibility aligns with the defined prerequisites. In this chapter, I aim to ensure you are well-equipped with a solid foundation to begin navigating the complexities of the sequential evaluation process.
Step one of the sequential evaluation process is work activity. This involves an assessment of your work activity by the Social Security Administration. This step is crucial as, since the Social Security Disability program operates as an insurance program, you are required to have a sufficient work history to be eligible for benefits. Those who have never worked will not qualify for Social Security Disability insurance benefits.
The key criterion in determining eligibility is whether you are engaging in substantial gainful activity. As of 2023, the threshold for substantial gainful activity is set at the ability to earn $1,200 per month. This amount changes every year and can come from full-time or part-time work. The nature of the work is as significant as the income earned: even freelancers or individuals working a few hours a week may be deemed ineligible if they surpass the substantial gainful activity income limit.
Like with most things though, there are exceptions. People earning more than the substantial gainful activity limit can still qualify for Social Security Disability benefits. One exception is sheltered work, where friends or family pay the claimant more than they would professionals in the field they’re not personally acquainted with. The Social Security Administration recognizes this as sheltered work and allows individuals to apply for disability benefits under these circumstances.
Another exception is when a portion of the earned income is allocated to cover expenses related to the claimant’s ability to work. For example, if special walking assistance or assistive devices incur costs that consume most of your earnings, a more accurate and realistic representation of your actual income, considering your disabilities, is taken into account.
If you’ve received substantial gainful activity through unemployment benefits, you may face serious challenges when applying for Social Security disability benefits. The Social Security Administration generally considers unemployment benefits as contradictory to disability claims. Those applying for disability assert an inability to work due to mental or physical impairments, while unemployment claimants express readiness and willingness to work but face job-related challenges. This contradiction often renders individuals receiving unemployment benefits ineligible for Social Security Disability benefits until the conflict is resolved.
Understanding the various details and issues of work activity and its impact on eligibility is essential when navigating the initial steps of the Social Security Disability evaluation process. Subsequent chapters will further explore each subsequent step to provide a comprehensive guide for you as you seek disability benefits.
For more information on Step One Of The Sequential Evaluation Process, a free initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (833) 444-4127 today.