Childhood SSI Benefits

May 26, 2015

Children with learning disabilities may qualify, but benefits are hard to win.

Your child has been identified as falling behind in school.

Perhaps, your child is scoring below expected grade level on standardized achievement testing. Your child is in second grade and only reading at the kindergarten level. Or maybe your child is exhibiting symptoms of inattention and distractibility, and it’s affecting your child’s academic performance. Children can have a number of challenges, such as a learning disability or ADHD, which may impact them in the school environment. What can be done about these challenges? And what can you do as a parent to help your child?

In Illinois, for parents with limited or no income, life can be a struggle every day. As a parent with a child who has disabilities and is struggling in the classroom, this is a major challenge for the entire family. What is Childhood SSI? What is an IEP? How do I ensure that my child receives SSI benefits?

Childhood SSI is a program designed by the SSA administration to help limited resource families get the help they need for their disabled children. If your child is under 18 years old and has a mental or physical condition that seriously limits activities, and the condition has lasted, or is expected to last, at least one year, he/she may qualify for SSI benefits. Winning a disability case is never easy and winning SSI disability benefits for a child is no different. At Nash Disability Law, our experience with thousands of cases has proven there is no simple formula for winning any disability case.

The first set of hurdles you have to get over are the limits on income and resources. The SSA looks at all income sources available to the child including parents’ income and stepparents’ income (if the child is living with the stepparent and one natural or adoptive parent). The limit on parental assets is $2,000 or the first $3,000 if there are two married parents. You will be required to present proof of your income and resources to SSA. In terms of income, SSA has a chart. For example, a single mom, making $41,000/yr can file for a disabled child, and be financially eligible (assuming less than $2,000 in assets). A couple with a disabled child can earn up to $49,896 together and still be financially eligible.

The second group of hurdles you have to get over is proving the child’s physical or mental disability. SSA has a collection of medical conditions (called a “Listing of Impairments”) that generally are severe enough to warrant the immediate awarding of benefits, if they meet specific criteria. Asthma, autism, cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, and HIV infection – to name a few – are examples of conditions in the listings. However, proving your child meets the criteria in the listings is complicated and seldom straight forward. Proving a learning disability is even more difficult.

According to SSA statistics, the majority of children from birth to 5 years old who qualify for SSI assistance have physical disabilities, but for the next two major age groups, 6-12 and 13-18 years old, mental and/or learning disabilities represent the majority of cases. Here at Nash, we regularly see children three years old and older who have significant delays in communication, fine or gross motor skills, adaptive behavior, or have cognitive disabilities. These are kids who are not keeping up with their peers in school—many times due to developmental delays, but it also can be due to a serious medical or psychiatric impairment. Impairment often becomes more noticeable at certain ages, because there are common measurements which parents and schools use. For example, at age seven, first graders are expected to read, or in the third grade nine year-old kids are expected to write a full page.

Like other Social Security disability cases, for learning disability cases it is not enough to say an individual is impaired; there must be solid evidence to back up the claim. The most convincing proof to show the extent of a learning disability is the child’s IQ scores and reports from teachers, counselors, and physicians. (SSA puts particular emphasis on the opinions of medical professionals. If the child also has a psychiatric impairment, you will need a diagnosis from a psychiatrist; it can’t be just an opinion of a school psychologist.) Evidence that is particularly important in an SSI learning disability case is an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). This helps provide a fuller picture of your child’s level of impairment.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires each student with disabilities who receives special education services to have an IEP — an educational program written just for him or her. In the state of Illinois, to get an IEP evaluation for your child you must make the request in writing to your school district. The school district has 14 days to respond. Then the IEP is developed during an IEP meeting. You, your child, and the people who are involved with your child’s education meet, discuss, and develop IEP goals for the next year. You, as a parent, can revoke the IEP at any time and request a new IEP meeting and re-evaluation.

If your child is approved for SSI benefits, the case will be reviewed occasionally to make sure your child is still financially eligible and still has a disability. Once your child turns 18, he/she will be reviewed again and assessed under adult disability criteria, as part of an SSA process called “Continuing Disability Review” (CDR). CDRs have their own rules and complications. Be sure and read the next article for more about CDRs.

Children’s Social Security disability cases are different to prove than adult cases. That’s why most law firms shy away from them. At Nash Disability Law, we are proud of our advocacy on behalf of children who need and deserve vigorous legal representation. If we can be of help to your family, contact NDL for a free consultation.