Parenting a child with special needs comes with a unique set of challenges and obstacles. Among these obstacles are the increased expenses that come with specialized medical treatment, supportive care, and assistive devices. While these are often necessary to keep your child comfortable and healthy, they can quickly become very expensive.
If your child has an illness or health condition that prevents him or her from functioning at a typical level, he or she may qualify for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits. As a parent or guardian, you can use these benefits to ensure that your child has everything they need to thrive and grow.
Is My Child Disabled?
To qualify for any type of disability assistance, your child must have a documented disability. The Social Security Administration will consider your child disabled if he or she meets the following criteria:
- Your child cannot earn a substantial income.
- Your child has a physical or mental condition that prevents him or her from performing typical daily activities.
- Your child’s condition is expected to last for at least one year or result in death.
Social Security Disability Benefit Programs
The SSA runs two separate programs that offer disability benefits to qualified candidates.
1. The first disability program, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), offers financial assistance to disabled workers and their families. Eligibility for SSDI is based on applicants’ work history and the amount of taxes they’ve paid into the system. Children don’t typically qualify for SSDI because they haven’t held jobs or paid taxes.
However, if a child’s parent or guardian already receives SSDI benefits, the child may be eligible to receive benefits under the qualified parent’s record. If your child is over the age of 18 and became disabled before the age of 22, he or she is considered to be an “adult child” and can also qualify for dependent benefits on a parent’s record.
2. The second SSD program is referred to as Supplemental Security Income, or SSI. SSI offers financial assistance to elderly or disabled individuals who have very little income and financial resources. Because there are no age or work-related requirements for SSI, it is often a good option for children or adults who have no work experience. To qualify for SSI, applicants cannot exceed very strict financial limits put in place by the SSA.
Because children typically have no income or financial resources, a portion of the parent or guardian’s income will be “deemed” by the SSA. Essentially this means that the SSA will evaluate the household income to determine whether or not a child’s family meets the financial requirements of the SSI program. Children who are under the age of 18, who are unmarried, and who still live with his or her parents will be subject to deeming.
To be eligible for SSI, a family cannot exceed the Federal Benefit Rate. In 2013, the Federal Benefit Rate is $710 a month for an individual and $1,066 a month for a couple. Income that does not count toward this limit includes the following:
- Welfare payments
- Public Income Maintenance (PIM)
- Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF)
- VA pension for veterans
- Foster care payments
- Food stamps
- Disaster assistance
- Building or land tax refunds
The SSA will not deem a certain amount of income for living expenses. For each additional child that the household supports, the SSA will not count $356 of your income. For a single parent, the SSA will not count $710 or $1,066 for a couple. Please note that the SSA will not make these allowances for children or adults who already earn some type of public assistance.
If you have questions specific to your own family’s income, you should contact an SSA representative who can help you determine whether or not you exceed the income limits.
In addition to financial requirements, your child will have to meet certain medical criteria to qualify for SSD benefits. These medical criteria can be found in the SSA’s blue book. The blue book contains listings for potentially disabling conditions and specific medical criteria that a person must meet to qualify for assistance. Please note that children and adults have separate listings.
- Prior to beginning the application process, it is essential that you collect medical evidence to prove that your child’s condition matches a blue book listing. Medical documentation should include records of your child’s diagnosis, response to treatments, lab test results, history of hospitalizations, and any other relevant information.
- You should also collect written statements from professional adults that interact with your child on a regular basis. For example, these statements can come from teachers, doctors, or therapists. They should discuss your child’s symptoms and how they interfere with his or her ability to perform day-to-day tasks.
Social Security Disability Application Process
Once you are ready to initiate the application process on behalf of your child, you will be required to fill out two separate forms:
- the “Application for Supplemental Security Income” and
- the “Child Disability Report”.
Although the Child Disability Report can be completed online, many parents find it easier to schedule an appointment at their local Social Security office to complete both forms at the same time.
After you submit your child’s application, it is important that you remain patient while waiting for a decision. It can take several months to receive a decision. The SSA may also ask for more information. Be sure to reply promptly to any requests to avoid further delays.
Unfortunately many initial applications are denied. If your son or daughter’s application is denied, do not panic and do not give up. You are allowed to appeal the SSA’s decision. If you remain persistent and thorough in your efforts, your child will be awarded benefits and you will be able to better support their needs.