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What Social Security Benefits Programs Are Available For My Child with A Disability?

If your child or adult child has serious disabilities, they may eligible for Social Security benefits from one of several different programs. The most important of these are Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Which program might your child with special needs qualify for?

By Rick Smith

In my experience as the parent of an adult child with multiple disabilities, ithere are two programs that can help disabled children with sources of money from Social Security (SS):

The first is Social Security Disability Income - SSDI. Under SSDI, a disabled child can receive benefits based on their parents' qualifications and the child's disability. SSDI is part of traditional Social Security and resembles an insurance program.

The second is Supplemental Security Income - SSI. Under SSI, a disabled child or adult child who is disabled receives benefits based on limited income and/or assests, plus the disability. SSI differs from traditional Social Security in that it acts as a safety net funded by federal taxes.

(A third method, not discussed here, is that a child might collect traditional Social Security benefits under other circumstances based on their parents' eligibility, regardless of any disability.)

Social Security Disability Income - SSDI

SSDI is a part of the 'traditional' Social Security program where a worker (ie, the parent) pays into the fund over time and qualifies for benefits. The parent can qualify by reaching the age of 62 years old, by becoming disabled themselves, or by dying. A disabled child may get benefits based on the qualification of their parent under this 'insurance' portion of Social Security.

To receive benefits based on their parent's eligibility for Social Security, the parent must qualify and their child must meet the definition of 'disabled'. An adult who becomes disabled before age 22, and whose parents qualify for Social Security, may receive benefits if they have an impairment(s) that meets the definition of adult disability.

Supplemental Security Income or SSI

Disabled persons (either children or adults) may receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) if they or their family have little or no money. To receive these benefits, the disabled child or adult must meet the definition of disabled and have limited income and assets

Under SSI, the parent's income plays a role in determining if the minor child can receive benefits.

Once the child turns 18, their income alone is used for determining whether they can get SSI and the adult definition of disability is used. There are components of SSI for adults that are incentives for the recipient to move into the workforce and cease needing SSI benefits.

It is important to note that disability for the purposes of both programs is not about health and diagnoses. It is to a large extent about degree of functional limitation. For a child, Social Security will decide whether the physical or mental condition results in long term functional limitations. At 18 years and older, these limitations become focused on ability to work and earn an income.

Health Care Benefits Related to Social Security

Finally, health care benefits may be associated with both programs for your child. These include Medicare (for recipients of the Social Security insurance disability benefits) and Medicaid (for SSI recipients). In some cases, Medicaid may be available even when a person is not eligible for SSI.


Rick Smith: Recently, my adult child was notified by Social Security of his eligibility for benefits based on his multiple disabilities. Before applying to Social Security, we found much detailed information but few summaries about the process in plain language. I write this synopsis as a Dad who navigated the process rather than with the legal authority of a lawyer or bureaucrat. If you wish more detail or want additional verification, please consult a professional. Or you may wish to check into these recent books on Social Security

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