Will I Qualify For Disability If I Cannot Get A Sedentary Job?

Submitted by Chris on

As we discussed in our previous blog post, eligibility for disability benefits is based around a person’s ability work. But what does that really mean? In today’s blog post, we’ll be answering a question that was sent to us on Twitter. It touches upon being able to work, hire-ability, and disability benefits. As always, if you have a question that you’d like us to answer in a future blog post, leave it in the comment section below.

Today we will be answering the following question:

“Will I qualify for disability benefits if I’m capable of doing less intense work but cannot get a job?”

The Social Security Administration (SSA) maintains a very strict set of requirements used to govern the term “disability”. According to the SSA, a person is considered to be disabled if they meet the following standards:

  • The person has a physical or mental condition that prevents them from engaging in Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA). In 2024, SGA is considered to be working any type of job in which you earn more than $1,550 per month ($2,590 for individuals who are blind); and
  • The person’s condition must last, or must be expected to last at least one year or result in death.

In general, the more capable you are of working, the less likely it is that you will be approved for benefits—regardless of the fact that no one will hire you. This is not to say that disability applicants and recipients aren’t allowed to do any work—they just cannot be capable of engaging in SGA. For example:

  • A man who has a spinal condition is not able to sit or stand for long periods of time and often spends the majority of his time in bed or on the couch. However, two days a week he works for his brother’s company, entering data into a computer for approximately two hours. In total, he earns about $160 each month. This does not exceed SGA and the SSA has determined that he is not physically capable of working any more than he already does. In this situation, he would likely be awarded benefits.

In the above situation, the man was not capable of working more than 4 hours a week and therefore was awarded benefits. However, if an individual is capable of engaging in SGA but simply cannot find a job, the SSA will likely deny his or her application. For example:

  • A man, who has been employed at an online company for ten years, works from an office in his home making telephone calls at his desk. After he is told he needs hip-replacement surgery, the man quits his job and applies for disability benefits. The SSA reviews his application and determines that, several weeks after surgery, he will be able to resume job-related duties. The SSA will have no choice but to deny his application—even if he cannot find a new job after recovering from surgery.

Typically, the SSA will ask applicants to complete something called a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) assessment. This will be used by the SSA and Disability Determination Services (DDS) to determine what level of work an applicant can perform—both physically and mentally. The physical RFC will assess your ability to do things like walk, stand, crouch, lift, and carry. The mental RFC will assess things like decision making, interaction with others, concentration, and ability to follow instructions.

If, after reviewing your RFC, the SSA decides that you are capable of doing any type of work that would allow you to engage in SGA, the SSA will likely decline your application for disability benefits.

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