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Benefits for Children With Disabilities

May 29, 2020 Blog

Social Security benefits are not limited to retirement benefits, dependent benefits, survivor benefits, and standard disability benefits.  In fact, many people are not aware of just how fundamentally wide-reaching Social Security benefits are.  If you have a child suffering from a severe disability, you may be entitled to recover benefits on their behalf, even if the child is no longer a minor.

So, are disabled children entitled to benefits, and if so, what are the pre-requisites for such entitlement?

Under the law, both minor disabled children and adults who were disabled as children may be eligible to receive Social Security benefits.

  • Disabled children (currently below the age of 18) may be eligible to receive Supplementary Security Income (SSI) benefits.
  • Adults who became disabled as children (before the age of 22) may be eligible to receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. These benefits are technically listed as “child disability” benefits due to how such payments are administered through a parent’s Social Security record.

For now, we’ll focus on children who are currently suffering from a disability.  Let’s begin with a brief overview.

Qualifying for SSI Benefits

SSI benefits are intended to supplement the income of those with limited financial resources who are either retirement age, or disabled.  Children below the age of 18 may be eligible if they can demonstrate that they are disabled — in accordance with the Social Security Act’s definition of “disability,” of course.  SSI benefits will be paid out in the form of cash supplements.

There are three fundamental requirements for a child to be deemed “disabled” under the Social Security Act: 1) income level must be low enough that it meets SSI eligibility criteria; 2) there must be a physical or mental condition that is a limiting factor in the child’s life; and 3) the condition must be for a significant length of time.

Unpacking these basic requirements reveals the important details.

Income Level

Your child can only qualify if they are not working, and if they are not earning more than $1,170 per month.  Every successive year, this minimum monthly earnings requirement will be adjusted for inflation.

Medical Condition

Your child can only qualify if they have a particular physical or mental condition, or some hybrid thereof, that limits them from a functional perspective — for example, if your child cannot participate in any physical activities due to severe muscular dystrophy, then that will likely be sufficient.

Length of Time

The physical or mental condition that is functionally limiting your child must have caused such limitations — and must be expected to continue — for a minimum of one year, or alternatively, must be deemed a fatal condition.  For example, if your child has a physical condition that has only been suffered for six months, and is expected to be corrected in a few more months, he or she will likely not be eligible to receive SSI benefits.

The Social Security Administration will regularly review your child’s condition to ensure that their disability still qualifies them to receive SSI payments.  These reviews are not necessarily frequent — in fact, they need only be conducted once every three years.

Some medical conditions may qualify your child for immediate SSI payments, even while the Social Security Administration (or a local office thereof) is making their final determination of whether your child is eligible.  These medical conditions include, but are not necessarily limited to sensory issues (i.e., blindness, deafness), down syndrome, and muscular dystrophy, among others.

To apply for a disabled child, you’ll have to complete and submit an SSI application and a Child Disability report.  In order to successfully complete such applications, you’ll want to gather sufficient information on the child’s medical condition(s) and on their earning capacity.

The process for receiving benefits isn’t always straightforward — especially if you’ve applied and your child’s SSI benefits application has been denied.  You’ll want to consult with an experienced disability attorney who can navigate the application and appeals process, if necessary.