This is a question-and-answer post about getting SSI for a child with a disability. It’s meant to break it down to make it easier to understand the how, why and wherefore’s of this. This post includes useful links to SSA (Social Security Administration) to give you more thorough information.
We at Unpacking Disability are NOT disability benefits planners. We are only taking information that we know from personal experience or research and pulling it together for you.
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Getting SSI for Your Child with a Disability
It’s a wild world out there with Social Security!
It seems like the real swashbucklers are the people who can slice through the paperwork, acronyms and stiff language! They are a rare breed, and unfortunately, most of us parents aren’t born Social Security Swashbucklers; we become Social Security Swashbucklers by dint of practice.
So, let’s practice!
We’re going to run through a list of questions that most of us have had at one point or another regarding getting our child and benefits, and how to get our child on benefits (- if getting them on benefits is what makes sense?).
What Are Benefits for a Child?
The Social Security Administration (SSA) sets up a net for children who might need one. That net is money and accompanying health care. It’s a sum of money that they think is enough to support a child, and free access to health care.
Should We Get SSI for My Child or SSDI? What’s the Difference?
Good question! All the S’s make it so confusing!
In a (completely and probably grossly simplified) nutshell, SSI is for people who do NOT have an employment history and SSDI is for people who DO have an employment history.
Kids CAN GET SSDI though!! But if they do, they get it through their parents.
That is, their parent receives SSDI and the child can fall under the bracket (for example: the parent gets SSDI because of a mental illness, the child receives it too because the mental illness might be inheritable, so it’s like Social Security is pre-paying the child in case the child will later have the disability and files for SSI). DON’T WORRY ABOUT THIS UNLESS YOU HAVE SSDI. And if you have SSDI, you are probably not reading this post because you know your way around the system. If you want more information though, here’s a great post on the difference between SSI and SSDI.
Do I Have to Be Poor to Get SSI for My Child with a Disability?
Short answer: PRETTY MUCH!
Long answer: You have to need the money to get it.
Social Security Administration looks hard and long at income and assets and what counts as an income or asset.
Income & Assets That Social Security Administration is Going to Look At:
- bank accounts, stocks, U.S. savings bonds;
- life insurance;
- personal property;
- anything else you own which could be changed to cash and used for food or shelter; and
- deemed resources
See the section below for more information about “deeming” your income and assets to your child in order to qualify for SSI
Every family’s situation is different, and the SSA makes allocations based on the living expenses of other members of the household in order to determine how much income counts against your child’s benefits. As complicated as the rules are, the good news is that your child may be eligible for SSI when they turn 18, even if you have too much income to qualify them now.
Income and Assets that Social Security Administration Will NOT COUNT for SSI Determination:
- the home you live in and the land it is on;
- one vehicle, regardless of value, if you or a member of your household use it for transportation;
- household goods and personal effects (e.g., your wedding and engagement rings);
- life insurance policies with a combined face value of $1,500 or less;
- burial spaces for you or your immediate family;
- burial funds for you and your spouse, each valued at $1,500 or less
- property you or your spouse use in a trade or business, or on your job if you work for someone else
- if you are disabled or blind, money or property you have set aside under a Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS)
- up to $100,000 of funds in an Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) account established through a State ABLE program
My Child Has a Savings Account: Will That Disqualify Them From Getting SSI?
It depends on how much money is in your child’s saving account. Generally speaking, the asset limit for any individual who receives SSI is $2,000 in the bank at any given time.
Since 2014, any disabled person who became disabled before the age of 26 has had the opportunity to keep money above the $2,000 limit in an ABLE account (up to $100,000) and still qualify for SSI.
So! If you have a plump saving account for your child (- yay for you!), transfer that money into an ABLE account and keep under $2,000 in the regular bank account.
Can I Get SSI for My Child with an IEP?
Short answer; YES!
Long answer: Social Security Administration (SSA) strictly defines disability for children. For your child to qualify for SSI, they must have a physical and/or mental condition that seriously “limits their activities” by SSA standards. The “limiting condition” must be one that has lasted at least one year, or one that can result in death.
Some learning disabilities can fall under this definition. For your child with a learning disability to qualify for benefits, you have to be able to show that they have significant difficulties learning and using academic skills, with severe limitations in areas like:
- Understanding, remembering, and applying information
- Social skills
- Time management and concentration
- Self-control and self-regulation
- Personal hygiene
Many children with learning disabilities will be severely limited in learning and understanding, without difficulties in other areas.
For you to qualify for SSI for your child with a learning disability, Social Security will need proof that everything for your child is really impaired. That means paperwork: Social Security needs documentation of the learning disability and how exactly it impairs your child’s functioning in one of those areas listed above.
What Type of Documentation is Needed? What Counts?
The documentation for your child’s learning disability may include:
- school records that show your child’s level of functioning over time (think standardized and/or psychological testing)
- feedback from teachers
- documentation regarding your child’s participation in special education classes and other support services.
- a current measure of your child’s learning limitations
The more the better, and the more descriptive is the absolute best. You want to make it easy for Social Security to see how your child’s disability impacts them. Social Security might ask you to bring your child to a psychological consultative evaluation to gauge your child’s current level of functioning. In every case SSA pays for this kind of evaluation.
What Conditions or Disabilities Automatically Qualify My Child for SSI?
Lots of disabilities automatically get your child through that hoop and onto SSI!
- Total blindness and/or deafness
- Cerebral palsy
- Down syndrome
- Severe intellectual disability in children older than 4 years of age
- Symptomatic HIV infection
- Birth weight lower than 2 pounds, 10 ounces
In addition to these, the SSA has listed “neuro-developmental disorders” including dyslexia, dyscalculia, and other learning disabilities as disabling medical conditions that may qualify your child for SSI benefits.
⇒ see the link resources at the end of this to go to the comprehensive list of disabilities that SSA will consider “qualifying” ⇐
What is “Deeming”?
Social Security is full of fun new words, that’s for sure. “Deeming” is one of them.
Deeming means, “a complex process whereby the SSA looks not only at your child’s income and assets, but also at a portion of your income and assets as if they were available to your child. ”
The SSA considers that you as a parent have a legal duty to support your child. Because your income and assets would be legally available to support your child, the SSA may look at them to see how eligible your child is for SSI.
If you want to get SSI for your child who is unmarried, under the age of 18, and living with you, SSA may deem your income and assets to your child. If you receive your own SSI benefits, or if your child does not live with you or another parent, then there is no parental deeming, meaning, they won’t look at your money.
The SSA reduces the amount of deeming to your child if your child is living in a household with other children under the age of 21. Once your child reaches the age of 18, even if he or she is living with you, deeming of your income stops. From age 18 on, the SSA only looks at your child’s own income and assets for their SSI eligibility. That’s why, in the case that you make too much money or have too much money now for your child to qualify for SSI, it won’t matter later, when they are over 18 and SSA is only looking at THEIR income and assets (- again, make sure to use those ABLE accounts so savings won’t count against them!
⇒ Read more about ABLE here (or linked in the resources below) ⇐
The SSA handles deeming on a case-by-case basis and there’s a variety of factors, including your unique living situation, earned and unearned income, and assets (or what the SSA refers to as “resources”) that determine how or if SSA deems your income to your child.
Actual Application for Applying for SSI for Your Child
Moving right along (and you are doing great!), and wrapping up this post, is a link (here and in the button below) to actually starting the actual SSI application process for your child with a disability.
You need to do TWO THINGS for the application:
- Application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) AND
- A Child Disability Report
Right now, only the Child Disability Report can be completed online. After you complete it, a Social Security Representative will call you to schedule a time to do the application together. Link to apply: https://www.ssa.gov/benefits/disability/apply-child.html
You got this!
Useful Resource Links: SSI For My Child with a Disability
What You Should Know (by Social Security Administration), pre-application general information download: https://www.ssa.gov/disability/Documents/SSA-1171-KIT.pdf
Social Security Checklist and Interview Worksheet (by Social Security), a general guide for the application: https://www.ssa.gov/disability/Documents/SSA-1171-KIT.pdf
Benefits for Children with Disabilities (by Social Security), a longer version of the first link (“What You Should Know”): https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10026.pdf
List of Qualifying Disabilities (by Social Security, to get your child SSI): https://www.ssa.gov/disability/professionals/bluebook/AdultListings.htm
Diving Into “Deeming”: (full explanation of “deeming” by Social Security) https://www.ssa.gov/ssi/text-chihld-ussi.htm
All About ABLE Accounts: (by Meriah Nichols, with links to ABLE National Resource Center) https://www.meriahnichols.com/how-to-open-an-able-account-save-money-and-keep-disability-benefits/
Understand How Much Money or Resources You Can/Can’t Have with SSI: (by Social Security, great list of what they count) https://www.ssa.gov/ssi/text-resources-ussi.htm
Helpful ResourcesDisability Related Resources
Kari Turner is a freelance writer and disability advocate from Los Angeles. She and her husband are raising their family in California’s high desert. In her spare time, of which she’s had little since her daughters were born!, she blogs about disability, spirituality, parenting, and faith at http://writingthetao.blogspot.com. Follow her on Facebook and LinkedIn.