Raising children can be both joyful and challenging. That's doubly true if your child has a physical or mental disability that puts a greater strain on your time and resources. Caring for your child might even hinder your ability to work. If your income is limited already, the cost of care for your disabled child can take the family budget to the breaking point.
But there might be financial help available to you. If your child has a disability that greatly affects their ability to function, they might qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a monthly cash benefit. Here's what you need to know to apply for and get SSI disability benefits for your child.
To qualify for disability benefits, your child will first need to meet Social Security's non-medical eligibility requirements. Your child must fit Social Security's definition of what a child is, and your family must meet the financial requirements of the SSI program.
SSI disability benefits for children are similar to SSI benefits for adults. But Social Security uses slightly different criteria in determining disability for a child versus an adult applying for benefits. Children are considered disabled if they have functional limitations in six specific areas, whereas adults must show that their impairment prevents them from doing work activities.
For Social Security to consider an application for SSI benefits using the determination rules for children, your child must be:
Since SSI is designed to help disabled adults and children with few financial resources, your family must meet Social Security's income and asset limits for your child to qualify for benefits. Social Security will consider your child's income along with the income of the other family members in your child's household. That includes both parents and step-parents if they live with the disabled child.
If your child spends most of their time away from your home (perhaps living at school) but returns for visits, and you're still "in charge" of the child, your income and resources must still fall below the SSI limits.
In a process called "deeming," Social Security will look at the income and resources of the qualifying parent(s) and count a certain amount of the parent's income as the income of the child. If Social Security determines that your family meets the SSI income and asset limits, your child's application for disability will move forward in the process.
Read more about the SSI income and asset limits.
The next step in the SSI disability application process is the medical determination. Social Security must decide if your child fits the agency's definition of disabled.
There are two ways to show that your child is medically disabled:
Social Security has a list of impairments (call the "Blue Book") that it uses to determine medical eligibility for benefits. There's a list for adults and another for children who apply for disability. If your child's condition meets a childhood listing, your child will qualify for disability benefits.
For children, there are 14 different listings in the Blue Book covering a variety of impairments. Below is the list of childhood disabilities found in the Blue Book and some of the impairments included in each listing.
For your child to qualify medically for SSI disability based on the listings, you must provide medical evidence that shows your child meets every element in the listing.(Learn more about getting SSI for specific childhood conditions.)
A cornerstone of Social Security's disability requirements for adults is that their disability prevents them from working (unless they meet a listing). For children, this requirement is generally not applicable, so Social Security looks at how your child's functional abilities are limited in six domains of functioning:
Functionally equaling the listings means that your child has either:
A "marked" impairment seriously interferes with your child's ability to function. An "extreme" impairment very seriously interferes with your child's ability to function. In both situations, the limitation may be caused by one severe condition or a combination of less severe conditions.
To qualify for SSI benefits, your child's disability must have lasted or be expected to last at least 12 months. There are some exceptions to this rule. Children with certain conditions can qualify for "presumptive disability" (which means they'll get immediate SSI benefits because Social Security presumes they're likely to qualify for disability).
For example, if your child had a significantly low birth weight and you apply for SSI disability before your baby is six months old, your child should qualify for presumptive disability.
Your child will be able to continue receiving SSI benefits indefinitely if their condition continues to be disabling and they continue to be financially eligible. After children turn 18, their disability is reevaluated under the adult listings and medical-vocational rules. (Learn more about what happens when a child receiving SSI disability becomes an adult.)
You can contact your local Social Security office or call Social Security (800-772-1213) to get your child's disability application started. You can also use the online form to begin the SSI application process for your child. But navigating the Social Security disability claims process can be a complex and time-consuming endeavor, involving multiple forms and gathering a lot of information.
It can be a daunting task, especially when you're also caring for a disabled child. You can lighten your load by working with a lawyer or advocate who specializes in children's SSI disability cases. An experienced disability lawyer or advocate can help you build a stronger case that will make it more likely that your child will qualify for SSI disability benefits.