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SSA Grid Rules You Should Know

Last updated: April 9, 2023

People applying for disability benefits may be easily approved if they are 50 years of age or above at the time of the application. According to the SSA, older workers find it more challenging to learn new skills or to start a new job. In such scenarios, the SSA has certain rules called "grid rules" to evaluate the eligibility of individual applicants for disability benefits that they can receive through SSDI and SSI. You may qualify under the grid rules when your impairment is not listed, you cannot perform any of your previous relevant work due to an impairment, and you’re not working at the SGA level.   

To ensure consistency and fairness in the decision-making process, the grid rules are a crucial component of the Social Security Administration's evaluation process when determining disability. During the evaluation of claims, disability examiners and administrative law judges are guided by these grid rules. The SSA will assess your ability to perform in a work environment based on the exertion level you can apply. Throughout this article, we'll explore how the SSA grid rules operate.

If you are a disabled individual and need legal help to file a disability claim, read our blog post on how to find Social Security Disability attorneys near me.

Determining Factors Of The Grid Rules

Applicants are determined to either be disabled or not disabled according to the SSA grid rules based on the factors described below.

The Age Of The Applicant

The older the applicant is, the easier it is to get approved for disability using the grids. Under these grids, the SSA categorizes the applicants into four main age groups.

  • People aged 18 years old to 49 years old are considered to be younger individuals.
  • People between the ages of 50 and 54 are considered close to advanced age.
  • People 55 years of age and above are considered to be of advanced age.
  • People who are 60 years old or more are considered to be close to the age of retirement.

The Education Level Of The Applicant 

The grids are more likely to approve you for disability if you have a lower education level. Finding jobs suitable for people with few skills is hard, especially if they have less education. A breakdown of education levels by the SSA is as follows:

  • A high school diploma or higher and some training in a skilled occupation.
  • Having completed high school or equivalent, but not having received recent skilled work training.
  • A low level of education (generally lower than 11th grade).
  • Incapable of reading and writing.

The Applicant's Past Work Skill Level 

The SSA categorizes jobs according to their skill levels into 3 categories: non-skilled people, people with some skills, and highly skilled people. Under the grids, it is more likely that unskilled people will be disabled. The Social Security Administration will categorize your past jobs on the basis of your description of the jobs and the way the Department of Labor (DOL) characterizes your jobs. Factory sorters are an example of unskilled jobs. For instance, the job of a waitress is not a high-skilled job. Paralegals are an example of skilled jobs. The DOL determines the skill level required to perform a job by examining factors such as the amount of time required to learn the job skills and if specialized training is required.

Transferable Skills That Can Be Applied To A New Job

SSA examines whether your previous work experience included skills you can apply in another job, also known as transferrable skills. Your disability claim is more likely to be lost if you have more transferrable skills since the SSA may say you might be able to perform other work, and your chances of winning the disability claim go down. The Social Security Administration will most likely categorize such skills as transferrable skills.

The RFC Of The Applicant

You can still work full-time if you have a residual functional capacity (RFC). To determine whether you can stand, walk, lift, carry, and push, the SSA will utilize non-partisan medical proof submitted by the applicants or their physicians. RFC will be assigned to you by the SSA for the following levels of work:

  • Sedentary,
  • Light,
  • Medium, or 
  • Heavy 

Under the grids, it is generally harder to get approval if you have a higher RFC.

For disabled individuals who are living off SSI payments and looking to work, read our blog post on how many hours you can work on SSI.

The Basics of the Grid Rules

Grid rules determine whether a person is disabled for Social Security disability purposes by using information such as their age, education, work history, and medical conditions. Grid rules can be broken down into three categories.

1. Medical-Vocational Guidelines

SGA guidelines evaluate whether individuals can perform SGA despite their medical condition based on age, education, and work experience. According to the medical-vocational grid rule, an individual's residual functional capacity (RFC) is considered when using a series of tables. Despite their medical condition, RFC enables them to perform as many work-related activities as possible. Based on the number of hours spent, the tables are divided into four categories: sedentary, light, medium, and heavy work. In each table, you will find columns for age, level of education, and work experience. Each row represents an individual's RFC, ranging from being able to accomplish all work-related activities to not being able to accomplish any. Based on the data in the tables, the RFC can be determined by combining the individual's age, education, and work experience with their RFC. 

The grid rules may find a disabled individual 50 years old with a high school education limited to sedentary work and no work experience that translates to other jobs. Nonetheless, a 30-year-old worker who cannot do anything but sedentary work and who also has the same education and work experience might not be deemed disabled under grid guidelines.

2. Grids for Specific Vocational Preparation (SVP)

Employers can use these grids to determine an individual's aptitude for other kinds of work based on their specific skills and training. According to the SSA's Specific Vocational Preparation (SVP) rating, your past jobs are rated based on your skill level. Workers are rated on their ability to learn their jobs at an average level using SVP ratings. Each job has a specific SVP number assigned by the Department of Labor (DOL). Depending on the level, a job requires more training at each of the nine SVP levels. Based on the amount of training, the SVP levels are as follows.

Levels Of SVP

In total, there are nine SVP levels, and higher numbers mean that a higher level of training is required for learning a job. Based on the amount of training needed, the SVP levels are as follows.

  • SVP 1 - A short demonstration of how to do the job
  • SVP 2 - Up to one month or 30 days of training
  • SVP 3 - Up to three months of training
  • SVP 4 - Three months to six months of training
  • SVP 5 - Six months to one year of training  
  • SVP 6 - One to two years of training
  • SVP 7 - Two to four years of training
  • SVP 8 - Four to ten years of training
  • SVP 9 - More than ten years of training

As a result of these SVP ratings, the SSA determines skill levels as follows. The SVP rating of 1 or 2 indicates that the job is unskilled. Semi-skilled jobs are those with an SVP rating of 3 or 4. All the jobs with an SVP greater than 4 are considered skilled. A skill level is determined by the SVP level attained in your past work by the SSA. A worker's skill level at their last job is also considered when the SSA determines what other jobs are available to them. Your chances of winning your claim will be less likely the more skilled you have been in the past.

3. Grids for Age and Education

Using these grids, one can determine whether a person can do other types of work based on his or her age and education. Age and education grids are used to determine which types of work are available based on an individual's age and education level. Disability determinations are based on these grids when an individual's specific abilities and training do not determine their disability. 

You can view how the SSA would apply the grid to your particular case by finding the table that addresses your RFC level, then find the row that describes your age group, educational level, and previous employment history. The final column illustrates how your claim will be determined by the SSA based on these factors.

SSA grid rules are there for disabled Americans whose medical conditions or disabilities do not qualify them for disability benefits under the regular rules of the Social Security Administration. These rules help the SSA better evaluate disability claims on the basis of your ability to perform in different work environments. The main determinants under the SSA grid rules are the applicants' age, education, skills in previous jobs, transferable skills, and residual functional capacity.

Applying for Social Security benefits can be an overwhelming process for some people. If you want to avoid the hassle of going through the appeals process when applying for disability benefits, read our article on how to get approved for disability the first time.

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Victor Traylor
An expert to the field of Social Justice, Victor formed Disability Help to connect ideas and expertise from the US with rising global cultural leadership, building networks, fostering collaboration, long-term results, mutual benefit, and more extensive international perception.
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