National Alliance on Mental Illness
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Social Security Administration Increases Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) Level To $700 A Month - Effective July 1, 1999
On April 15, the Social Security Administration published final rules implementing a proposed increase in the Substantial Gainful Activity level for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) non-blind disabled beneficiaries. Effective July 1, 1999, the amount will increase from $500 a month to $700 a month. This increase will allow SSI and SSDI beneficiaries who are able to work to earn up to $700 a month without losing their benefits and maintaining much needed health insurance coverage as they begin the transition to work. Fear of inadvertently exceeding SGA has kept many disabled beneficiaries, including people with severe mental illnesses, from attempting to enter the workforce.
WHAT IS SGA?
Substantial Gainful Activity is used to determine an individual’s ability to earn wages and work, and acts as an incentive to seek employment and become independent. Since the establishment of SGA twenty years ago, it has been increased only once, in 1990. The increase to $700 a month reflects the level SGA would have attained had it been matched with the growth of average wages since 1990. Approximately, 400,000 disabled beneficiaries engage in the workforce each year, including people with serious brain disorders. The SGA increase to $700 month should help many people with serious brain disorders begin the process of entering the workforce.
NAMI strongly supports the increase of SGA to $700 a month and acknowledges the intent of SSA to create an environment where more beneficiaries with disabilities can "enter the workforce and lead more productive self-sufficient lives." However, it is important to note that this figure does not completely reflect an adjustment based on the national average wage index since the inception of SGA in 1979. SGA was designed as an indicator to signal whether a beneficiary is capable of earning significant wages and provides an incentive to enter the workforce. NAMI will continue to advocate for a more equitable approach such as indexing SGA to wage growth. This would increase SGA to nearly $880 a month, and would more accurately reflect an individual’s ability to earn.
The Social Security Administration credited a "tremendous response" from the disability community during the comment period for the proposed rule change. The Social Security Administration’s final rules published in the Federal Register can be accessed by going to http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/aces/aces140.html and entering the date of April 15, 1999. For a copy of NAMI’s comments on the increase in SGA, please go to the NAMI website at http://www.nami.org/policy.htm.