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Is my disabled child eligible for Social Security benefits? 

Children who suffer from severe physical or intellectual impairments such as cancer, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, or total vision or hearing loss may qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). This benefit program, administered but not funded by Social Security, makes monthly cash payments to low-income people who are disabled or over 65. 

The child’s disability must be expected to last for at least 12 months or end in death. Social Security maintains a list of conditions and medical criteria that apply specifically to evaluating claims involving children.

Childhood eligibility for SSI generally ends at age 18, although a person under 22 who is still regularly attending elementary or secondary school may be considered a “child” for benefit purposes. 

Family financial resources can play a role in determining whether a child qualifies for SSI and the level of benefit. Social Security decides eligibility on a case-by-case basis, looking at each family’s household income and assets. The criteria are lengthy and vary widely. Not all types of income and assets are counted, and the rules may differ depending on where you live, as some states provide supplements to federal SSI payments.

If you believe your child might qualify for Supplemental Security Income, you may want to start by contacting Social Security to discuss your situation. You can also gather information from Social Security’s publication “Benefits for Children With Disabilities” and fact sheet on SSI for children. You can begin an application online by filing a Child Disability Report, but you’ll have to call Social Security at 800-772-1213 or visit your local office to complete the process.

Keep in mind

  • Once a disabled child turns 18, Social Security will consider whether he or she can remain in the SSI program, based on the different medical and financial criteria for adult beneficiaries. 
  • The child also may be eligible to switch at 18 to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), subject to Social Security’s evaluation process for adult disability claims. This type of SSDI payment is still considered a child’s benefit because it is paid on a parent’s work record. The child need not have worked to qualify.

Published October 10, 2018

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