Apr 26, 2009


The Social Security Advisory Board (SSAB) has issued an "Issue Brief" on the subject of Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA), a concept used in the Social Security disability programs. Basically, if one is engaging in SGA, one cannot be considered disabled, but SGA is a term of art. Work may not be SGA if low earnings, unsuccessful work attempts, made work, subsidized employment, impairment related work expenses, trial work periods, etc. are taken into consideration. And don't get me started on self-employment as SGA or the effect of blindness on SGA.

There has been a consensus for some years that the whole concept of SGA needs a fresh look. One of the more common themes is that SGA should be a ramp instead of a cliff. I don't know how to quickly explain the ramp-cliff distinction but if you've read this far, you probably already know what I'm talking about. Despite the consensus, nothing has been done about SGA since doing something will probably mean more people will get on or stay on Social Security disability benefits. That costs money,which didn't appeal to either President Bush or Clinton.

Other than discussing the bizarre aspect of how blindness affects SGA the "Issue Brief" is mostly superficial, but still useful, since it does point to an area of the law that is long overdue for reform, at a time when reform may be politically feasible.

One suggestion: The biggest problem now is that SGA is just too complicated. Claimants have no idea how it works. Even many Social Security employees what should understand how SGA works, don't. The best work incentives imaginable won't work if claimants don't understand them and Social Security has great difficulty administering them. The first goal should be simplification. Going to a ramp instead of a cliff will help, but that would just be a start.

1 comment:

Nancy Ortiz said...

Ramp, cliff, or step ladder, SGA is a mess--a complete administrative disaster from the git-go. But you keep getting back to the same old thing. What is a disability under the act? When should we pay and when should we stop paying? We might as well be arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. As reluctant as I am to say so, I think we need to rethink the whole deal.