Legal Guide

The Fundamentals of Disability Benefits For Children

If you are disabled for any reason, be it a physical injury or severe health condition, you can apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) through the Social Security Administration (SSA). But what options are there for children who become disabled? Dependent children typically do not have a source of income and they can hardly apply for disability benefits on their own. It is important to understand what options are available to disabled children should they require financial assistance due to a disability.

Age of Eligibility:

The SSA applies strict age limitations on child benefits. While many parents feel a sense of responsibility for their offspring, no matter how old they are, the SSA applies more objective criteria for the purpose of determining benefits eligibility. Your child must meet the following criteria. They must be 

  • Unmarried
  • Under the age of 18 years
  • Between 18-19 years old and a full-time student (no higher than grade 12); or
  • Be 18 years or older with a disability that began before age 22.

Sometimes, the SSA may be able to grant benefits for a step-child, grandchild, step-grandchild, or adopted child. Children characterized as such must also have:

  • A parent who is disabled or retired and eligible for Social Security benefits; or
  • A deceased parent who had a sufficient work history in a job that paid Social Security taxes

Basic Requirements For Benefits: 

The SSA has additional criteria beyond age that must be met before a disabled child is entitled to benefits. Eligibility may be found if:

  • your child is under age 18 years old and has a diagnosed physical or mental impairment which result in marked and severe functional limitations; and
  • the impairment has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months or be expected to result in death; or
  • if your child meets the same definition of blindness that applies to adults 

Assets and Income Limitation:

Children cannot work and earn an income.  Therefore, SSA will consider parental income sources, even if you are a step-parent. The SSA will consider the following:

  • The income and assets that are available for your child; including
  • A step-parent's income and other resources when your child also lives with a natural and adoptive parent, or a step-parent.

The income threshold may vary from state to state. For SSI, the SSA uses a Deeming Eligibility Chart to determine whether the financial threshold for parental income has been exceeded. The Deeming Eligibility Chart for Children lists the amounts of monthly income that parents can receive for a child to qualify for SSI.  Not all types of income will be accounted for. A knowledgeable attorney can help you determine whether your income falls under the maximum allowed.

Medical Requirements:

  • Listing of Impairment: Part B of the SSA’s Blue Book contains medical criteria that apply only to the evaluation of impairments in children under age 18. If your child meets all of the general eligibility requirements, the SSA will see if your child meets the Listing of Impairment or not. Meeting the criteria may be challenging, but if your child has any medical conditions in the Blue Book, the SSA can determine they have a qualifying disability quickly. Some examples of conditions in the Blue Book include:

·       Mental retardation

·       HIV infection

·       Asthma

·       ADHD

·       Cystic fibrosis

·       Sickle cell disease

·       Autism

  • Unlisted Disabilities:

If your child does not meet the criteria of the Blue Book, the SSA will decide whether the child’s disability results in functionally equivalent limitations. Meaning, the child’s disability must result in “marked” limitations in two domains of functioning or an “extreme” limitation in one domain. When SSA assesses functional equivalence, it assesses the interactive and cumulative effects of all impairments the child has documented, including those that may not be considered severe alone . 

The SSA evaluates functionality in terms of six domains. These are general areas of functionality that the typical child can perform. The domains evaluated are:

o   Acquiring and using information;

o   Attending and completing tasks;

o   Interacting and relating with others;

o   Moving about and manipulating objects;

o   Caring for yourself; and,

o   Health and physical well-being.

Social Security Disability Benefits for Children is an especially complex area of disability law, as the eligibility criteria can be confusing and there is often a lot of very specific documentation necessary to file with an application. A lawyer experienced in the SSA disability adjudication process can explain it to you in depth. 

Consult with an experienced Social Security Disability Attorney who can walk you through the process and improve your chances of being approved for benefits.

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