Social Security Benefits for Disabled Children

 SSI most often applies to adults, but children under 18 also may qualify if they meet the SSA's definition of "disability" and are within the eligibility limits for household income and resources. Payment amounts vary from state to state, since some states distribute additional funds to SSI beneficiaries.

Benefits for disabled children under the age of 18 are available through the Social Security Administration's (SSA) Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program.

Adults who first became disabled as children may seek another type of benefits -- through the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program.

This article covers eligibility requirements, application procedures, and other matters pertaining to SSI benefits for disabled children, as well as the basics of SSDI benefits for adults with disabilities sustained during childhood.

See FindLaw's main Social Security Disability Benefits page for more general information about SSA-administered disability benefits.

SSI Eligibility: Income & Resources

Since most children under 18 have negligible income, the SSA also considers the income and other resources of the household in general (assuming the child lives at home) when determining eligibility. Household income and resources are considered even if the child is away at school but returns home occasionally.

Generally speaking, the more income and resources your child (or the household) has, the less your child's SSI benefits will be. Certain income is not included in this determination, including income tax returns and the value of food stamps. Monthly SSI payments are limited to $30 for children who are receiving health insurance coverage for care in a medical facility.

The following four types of income are considered for SSI eligibility:

  1. Earned Income - Wages; earnings from self-employment; other forms of compensation
  2. Unearned Income - State disability payments; unemployment benefits; interest; other forms of income that are not compensatory
  3. In-Kind Income - Food or shelter received for free or at a steep discount
  4. Deemed Income- A portion of income from guardians, parents, or others with whom you live

See the SSA's "Understanding Supplemental Security Income" for more details.

Benefits for Disabled Children: What Counts as Disabled?

To be considered disabled and thus eligible for SSI benefits, a child must meet all of the requirements listed below:

  1. Must not be working and earning more than a certain amount per month (this usually changes each year; see "Benefits for Children with Disabilities" for the current amount)
  2. Must have mental or physical condition (or both) that causes "marked and severe functional limitations"
  3. Child's condition must have been disabling (or expected to be disabling) for 12 continuous months, or is expected to result in the child's death

If you are the parent or legal guardian of a child with a disability, call 1-800-772-1213 to start the SSI application process. Make sure you have your child's Social Security number handy when you call.

As part of the application process, SSA officials will ask for detailed information about the child's disability and how it affects his or her daily activities. SSA officials may ask for permission to obtain additional information from physicians, therapists, teachers and other professionals. It always helps to bring medical and/or school records to the SSI interview. Additionally, you will need to bring your child's birth certificate and proof of household income to the interview.

If your child suffers from a particularly severe medical condition, such as HIV infection, cerebral palsy, or total deafness or blindness, the SSA will make payments immediately (and for up to six months) while the application is being processed. If the SSA determines your child is not disabled, you will not have to return those payments.

The agency normally takes three to five months to determine eligibility.

SSI Disability Review Process

Once a child begins to receive SSI benefits, the SSA will review each case periodically to verify that the recipient is indeed still disabled. The review is conducted at least every three years for children whose medical conditions are expected to get better; and by age 1 for babies if they are receiving SSI benefits due to low birth weight (unless the condition is not expected to improve by age 1, in which case a later review is scheduled).

SSDI Benefits for Adults Disabled During Childhood

If you are an adult and have been disabled since childhood, you may be eligible for SSDI disability benefits. To be considered for this benefit, which is paid on a parent's Social Security earnings record, you must have been disabled before reaching the age of 22. Adults who received dependents benefits on a parent's Social Security earnings record before turning 18 (if disabled at age 18) also may receive SSDI benefits.

One of the disabled adult's parents must meet one of the following two criteria to be eligible for benefits:

  1. Is receiving retirement or disability benefits from the SSA
  2. Is deceased and worked an adequate period of time under Social Security

See "Are You Eligible for Social Security Disability?" to learn more about how the SSA determines whether or not an applicant meets the requirements. To apply for this benefit, your parent (or yourself, if parent is deceased) must call 1-800-772-1213 and be prepared to discuss the disability in detail. The SSA representative will ask for the Social Security numbers of both the parent and the adult recipient.

Have Questions About Social Security Benefits? An Attorney Can Help

Disability claims and other interactions with the Social Security Administration are notoriously complicated. Given the many demands placed upon parents of disabled children, the assistance of a qualified attorney can make an enormous difference. Consider contacting an SSDI attorney and learn more about your rights and those of your disabled child.

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • The initial Social Security process doesn’t require an attorney
  • An attorney primarily handles claims that are denied
  • It can be helpful to have an attorney during Social Security benefit disputes or appeals

A Social Security lawyer can help protect your rights to your benefits.

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