What You Need to Know About Getting SSI Disability Benefits for Your Child

January 2, 2023

Insight from disability attorney Amy Altbach

Raising a child with special needs is a labor of love in almost every way. It can be both rewarding and challenging. Caring for a child with disabilities can also add financial burdens that put pressure on your family’s budget, especially if your income is limited.

But you may be eligible for financial assistance—a monthly cash benefit—if your child qualifies for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a Social Security assistance program.

Winning a disability case is difficult, and winning SSI disability benefits for a child is harder still. That is why many other law firms will decline the task of fighting for disability benefits for children.

But Nash Disability Law can help you when others won’t. Here’s what you need to know about getting SSI benefits for your child.

What Is SSI?

Social Security administers two disability programs: Social Security Disability Insurance, which is known as SSDI, and Supplemental Security Income, commonly referred to as SSI. SSDI pays benefits to you and certain members of your family if you have a disability and you worked long enough and paid Social Security taxes recently enough.

SSI, on the other hand, is based on financial need. The Social Security Administration says, “It is designed to help aged, blind, and disabled people, who have little or no income.”

What Are the Eligibility Requirements?

The first step in qualifying your child for disability benefits is to meet Social Security’s non-medical eligibility requirements. There are two specific requirements.

The first is that child must fit Social Security’s definition of what it means to be child. Your child must be:

  • Under the age of 18, or
  • Under the age of 19 and still enrolled full-time in junior high or high school (not college)

The second requirement is that your family must meet the financial prerequisites of the SSI program. Social Security will look at your child’s income, if they have any, and the income of the other family members in your household. This includes both parents and stepparents if they live with the child.

Social Security uses a process called “deeming” to look at the income and resources of the child’s parents, and then counts a certain amount of the parent’s income and resources as the child’s income.

You will be required to present proof of your income and resources to the SSA.

Social Security uses a rather complicated formula for deeming parental income to children. Because of the complexity of the deeming process, it is advisable to get the advice of a qualified Social Security Disability attorney.

If your child qualifies for SSI benefits, the SSA will re-calculate the amount to be deemed from the parents on an ongoing monthly basis to determine if your child is still eligible for SSI benefits.

What Qualifies as a Disability for Your Child?

The second step in the SSI disability application process for your child is the medical determination. Social Security must decide if your child fits the agency’s definition of “disabled,” and your child’s disability must have lasted or be expected to last at least 12 consecutive months.

Social Security has two ways to demonstrate that your child has a qualifying disability:

  • Demonstrating your child’s condition meets the requirements of a listing for their specific impairment, or
  • Demonstrating that your child’s condition “functionally equals” the impairment listing because of limitations in one or more areas of functioning

What Are the Disability Listings?

To determine medical eligibility, Social Security has a list of impairments known as the “Blue Book.”

In the Blue Book, you will find separate listings for adults and children. If you can provide medical evidence for your child’s condition which meets the all the elements in a childhood listing for their disability, your child will likely qualify for benefits.

For children, there are 15 different listings in the Blue Book covering a range of physical and mental impairments. Be forewarned, however, that proving your child meets the criteria in the listings is complicated and seldom straightforward.

How Do You Prove Your Child Functionally Equals the Listings?

In its written guidelines Social Security says, “If you have a severe impairment or combination of impairments that does not meet or medically equal any listing, we will decide whether it results in limitations that functionally equal the listings. By ‘functionally equal the listings,’ we mean that your impairment(s) must be of listing-level severity; i.e., it must result in ‘marked’ limitations in two domains of functioning or an ‘extreme’ limitation in one domain.”

The six domains Social Security examines are:

  • Acquiring and using information
  • Attending to and completing tasks
  • Interacting and relating to others
  • Moving around and manipulating objects
  • Self-care
  • Health and physical well-being

When Social Security evaluates your child’s ability to function in each domain, it will ask for and consider information that will help them answer a series of questions about whether your child’s impairment affects their functioning, and whether their activities are typical of other children of the same age who do not have impairments.

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.

How Long Can My Child Get Disability Benefits?

If your child’s condition continues to be disabling and they continue to meet the financial limits, they will be able to continue receiving SSI benefits indefinitely.

Their case will be reviewed occasionally to make sure your child is still financially eligible and still has a disability as part of an SSA process called a “Continuing Disability Review” (CDR).

CDRs have their own rules and complications. For more on CDRs read our blog article: “Is Your Disability Status Under Review? (Don’t Panic) .

Once your child turns 18, he/she will be reviewed again and assessed under adult disability criteria. This process is known as “redetermination” and generally will be conducted within two years of your child turning 18.

How Can I Get Help in Obtaining SSI Benefits for My Child?

Children’s Social Security Disability cases are harder to win 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 our team of disability lawyers for a free consultation.