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What Are Residual Functional Capacity and Substantial Gainful Activity?


When you apply for Social Security disability benefits, you will probably come across acronyms like “RFC” and “SGA” in your application. These terms and the concepts they relate to help ensure that the right people are being approved for benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA). However, they can become confusing in the midst of all the other acronyms and jargon present in the application process.

We can help you figure out what these terms mean to your specific circumstance.

Residual Functional Capacity (RFC)


residual-functional-capacityThis term refers to how much activity a person who is disabled is able to achieve in a standard work environment. This term only applies in disability applications that do not meet the requirements of the listing of impairments provided by the SSA.

The residual functional capacity (RFC) of an individual will limit them to certain types of work in potential jobs. The Disability Determination Bureau (DDB) will perform an examination on people who require an RFC score to continue their application. This assessment will tell the SSA what kind of work your disability allows you to perform. There are five levels of work, each building on the ability of the previous level:

  • Sedentary work: Jobs that mainly require a person to sit, stand, and carry objects less than 10 pounds
  • Light work: Jobs that require frequent standing and walking, as well as the ability to lift and carry at least 10 pounds
  • Medium work: Jobs that occasionally involve lifting up to 50 pounds and usually require a person to be able to carry 25 pounds
  • Heavy work: Jobs that regularly require workers to lift loads from 50 to 100 pounds
  • Very heavy work: Jobs that ask workers to lift 100 pounds by themselves and frequently carry 50 pounds as well

The lower your RFC, the less strenuous work you are able to accomplish, and the more likely you will receive disability benefits.

Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA)


Simply put, the amount of money you are able to make per month is your substantial gainful activity (SGA). This amount is set by the SSA to keep people who make enough money to live on from taking money from those who cannot make a living on their own.

The SSA evaluates each individual’s monthly earnings as either SGA or other income, depending on whether the activity that earns money is related to the person’s disability or not. These determinations can vary from case to case, and it can be helpful to consult with a legal professional to determine whether your work is considered substantial gainful activity or not.

For non-blind individuals in 2018, you’re counted as engaging in substantial gainful activity if you make $1,180 per month. For people who are blind, this amount is $1,970. If you make above these thresholds for your circumstance, you will not be eligible for Social Security disability benefits.

Help Filing Your Disability Application

The acronyms described here are just two of hundreds of complicated topics related to applying for disability insurance benefits (DIB). If you’re having trouble wrapping your head around these ideas and terms, you’re not alone.

Hensley Legal Group’s experienced Social Security disability attorneys can walk you through the application process and file an appeal if you have already been denied. Contact us today for a free conversation about your situation.