SSR 80-35: Title II: Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA)
for Persons Disabled by Blindness
To revise current SGA guidelines to reflect a statutory change creating an SGA dollar amount for persons disabled by blindness under title II of the Social Security Act.
Section 335 of Public Law 95-216; Section 223(d)(4) of the Social Security Act, as amended; Regulations No. 4, section 404.1584(d).
Prior to the 1997 Amendments to the Social Security Act, the law did not provide specific dollar guidelines or other criteria for evaluating work activity. Instead, the law directed the Secretary to prescribe, by regulations, the criteria for determining when services performed or earnings derived from services demonstrate an individual's ability to engage in SGA. Accordingly, the regulations established criteria based on energies, responsibilities, skills, hours, regularity, and related factors pertaining to work, regardless of the nature of the disability. The regulations included an earnings test with upper and lower dollar guidelines to assist in determining when an individual's work activity demonstrated ability to engage in SGA. To reflect increases in average earnings levels, the guidelines have been periodically increased and the latest of these regulations sets the upper and lower guidelines at $300 and $190 (average earnings per month), respectively for calendar years after 1979.
The 1977 Amendments established an additional test for determining whether blind individuals have demonstrated an ability to engage in SGA. Under this test, a blind individual whose earnings do not exceed a specific dollar amount is not regarded as having demonstrated an ability to engage in SGA. The Congress stressed that they did not intend that the new SGA level established for the blind should be applied to disability beneficiaries with other types of disabilities.
Beginning with months in the taxable years ending after 1977, an individual disabled due to blindness under the title II disability insurance program will not be considered to have demonstrated an ability to engage in SGA if earnings do not exceed the prorated monthly exempt earnings amount that applied to retired individuals age 65 or older. These monthly amounts are:
1978—$333.33 1/3 (rounded to $334)
1980—$416.66 2/3 (rounded to $417)
1981—$458.33 1/3 (rounded to $459)
After 1982, the exempt amount is subject to change from year to year depending on increases in the cost of living.
The statute explicitly states that no blind individual shall be considered as having demonstrated an ability to perform SGA on the basis of earnings not in excess of the specified SGA amount. It does not provide for a secondary dollar amount guide such as provided in the regulations for evaluating work of the nonblind. Thus, where average monthly earnings of a blind individual are at or below the amount specified in the statute, the individual is considered as not engaging in SGA. However, where earnings of the blind are above the statutory amount, the same considerations applicable to other disabled persons apply to the blind in determining whether their earnings demonstrate ability to engage in SGA.
Beginning with months in taxable years ending after 1977.
Only those individuals who meet the criteria for blindness as defined in Section 216(i)(1) of the Social Security Act will have their work activity evaluated under the new guidelines.
The earnings level for all title II disabled individuals, including those disabled by blindness, in effect prior to the Social Security Amendments of 1977 will continue in use for the evaluation of earnings from work activity performed in taxable years ending before 1978. Final regulations covering these policies were published in the Federal Register on August 20, 1980, at 45 FR 55566.
Claims Manual sections 6400ff, T6400 and A6400. Program Operations Manual System sections 2051ff and 2354ff. Disability Operations Manual section 630.
As opposed to the retirement which reduces benefits if earnings are above the exempt amount, earnings of blind individuals which average in excess of the prescribed amount may result in benefit cessation.