The Truth About Social Security for Disabled Children

Kid textingWhat do you do when, in his childhood or teenage years, your child develops a severe illness or sustains a serious injury that causes him to lose a certain amount of functionality? The swirl of thoughts and emotions that a parent in this situation experiences is intensified when money is tight. Care-giving is demanding both emotionally and financially.

So now what?

Social Security benefits may be an option for you and your child; they are not just for senior citizens or disabled adults. Below are the requirements of the Social Security Administration (SSA) for the two programs available to you: Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).


Right now, about eight to nine percent of American children are disabled. Around one-fifth of these children receive SSI. The eligibility requirements for SSI are strict but ensure that those who really need the help will receive it.

When your child is younger than 18, he or she must meet the SSA’s childhood disability criteria–which will be evaluated with medical and school records as well as relevant examinations–and his or her income must be below the income limit.

Disability is proved when:

  • Your child cannot earn more than $1,070 per month by working.
  • The disability impairs daily functioning severely and markedly.
  • The disability and its interference with daily life last for at least one year.

Income limit for a child with a disability:

If a child still lives with his or her family/caretakers or lives away at school but returns periodically to live at home, then the SSA will look at the income of parents and step-parents living with the child. This includes:

  • Parents’ earned income (coming from employment)
  • Parents’ unearned income (coming from sources such as investments or unemployment)
  • Other resources/assets
  • This does not include governmental assistance programs, e.g., food stamps, foster care payments, disaster relief payments, etc.

Additionally, if parents are not on SSI or other public assistance programs, then the SSA looks at their income through the lens of “allocations.” Allocations are allowances the SSA makes for the living expenses of the family. Allocations reduce the number that the SSA ultimately considers a family’s income. These include allocations for other dependents as well as allocations for parental living expenses. As of 2014, the allocation for children is $361 per child and the parental living allowance is $721 for a single parent and $1,082 for both parents.

SSI recipients’ cases are reviewed approximately every three years so the SSA can determine if the recipients are still eligible or if their condition has improved. And when children with a disability turn 18, their case will be reviewed with the criteria used for adults applying for SSI. Alternately, if a child is turned down for SSI because his or her parents make more money than the income limit, the child may apply as an adult and be more likely to receive SSI, assuming his or her income is lower.


This second program benefits anyone who has been disabled before turning 22 and whose parents have paid into Social Security long enough. A disabled adult can receive SSDI as a “child” if one of his parents is receiving Social Security benefits (from retirement or disability), if one of his parents has died and had been paying into Social Security, or if the disabled child was previously receiving Social Security benefits before age 18 and then continues being disabled.

Smiling boy in wheelchairControversy over SSI and SSDI for children with disabilities

When it is you or your child needing these benefits, it can be hard to come to terms with the fact that you need help. But serious disabilities are life-altering and require some life adjustments.

Recently, critics have said that SSA programs are being abused, too many children are receiving Social Security, and beneficiaries become too dependent on Social Security checks. While flaws do exist in the SSA and its systems, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ statistics show that the vast majority of beneficiaries of SSI and SSDI–including children with disabilities–do need the assistance they receive and are not abusing the system. The cost of raising a disabled child is $6,000 per year (or $11,000 when including lost income)–it is expensive work! And for the 300,000 disabled children who are below 50 percent of the poverty line, SSI benefits raise them above the line. Moreover, SSI paychecks do not make beneficiaries overly dependent; rather, this money actually helps young children move out of poverty and dependency because studies show that disabled children receiving SSI actually perform better in school and tend to earn more as adults.

There are many misconceptions around SSI and SSDI, but don’t let that stop you from applying. If you have any questions, our lawyers are here to help. You are not alone. There is a whole community available and willing to assist you and your child in getting the best benefits–try exploring the National Council on Disability or, for example. The above programs are available to help you, and so is Summit Disability Law Group.

Top Photo Courtesy of: KOMUNews

Bottom photo courtesy of: Honza Soukup