If your child (or your family, if your child is age 17 or younger) needs help paying for personal and medical needs because of a disability or special health care needs, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) can be a useful benefit.
And your child can get Medicaid for their health insurance if they are receiving SSI.
What Are SSI Benefits for Children?
SSI is a federal program through the Social Security Administration that offers monthly cash assistance to help you pay for your child’s personal and medical needs. It is for things like food and shelter, medical and dental care not covered under health insurance, and personal needs like clothing. You must apply and be approved for SSI based on your family or your child’s income.
Who Can Get SSI?
For your child to be approved for SSI, there are 5 things that must be true:
- Your family – the people living in your home that are listed on the SSI application – must have a limited income and limited resources (financial benefits and things you own) based on a special SSI formula. Only certain parts of your earnings count as income.
- You can enter your income and see what SSI benefits you might be able to get with the Benefit Eligibility Screening Tool.
- Once your child turns 18 years old, only their income and resources will be considered. If they were not able to get SSI as a child because your family income was too high, they might be able to get it as an adult.
- Your child must have a physical or mental disability, or a special health care need, that significantly restricts their daily activities. Children 17 years old and younger must have what the Social Security Administration calls “marked and severe functional limitations.” At age 18, this definition changes to “an inability to do any substantial gainful activity," such as holding a job.
- Your child’s disability must have lasted (or be expected to last) for at least 12 months. If your child has a life-threatening condition, you can still apply for help. Infants with certain disabilities or special health care needs can get SSI payments right away, even before they are fully approved for SSI benefits.
How Does SSI Work?
Once your child is approved to get SSI, you (or your adult child) will receive a monthly payment. The amount will depend on your income and resources. For example, the 2014 base pay for SSI was $721 a month for a child age 17 or younger. This amount might change each year. The monthly payment may be spent on food and shelter, medical and dental care not covered under health insurance, and personal needs like clothing. Money left over is to be put in savings. However, if your child has more than $2,000 in savings, it could cause problems with their SSI benefits. See more about how to apply and the application process below.
Can My Child Lose SSI?
Once your child is approved for SSI and getting monthly payments, the Social Security Administration will look at your family or child’s income, resources, and living arrangements once every 1 to 6 years. This is called a redetermination. However, if the Social Security Administration has reason to believe your (or your child’s) income has changed, they can decide to review income every year.
In addition, there are some situations where the Social Security Administration will review your child’s case and make a recommendation to continue (or stop) payments because your child no longer meets the Social Security Administration’s definition of disability. Timelines for these reviews vary. Here are some review guidelines:
- If your child’s condition is expected to improve, a review will be done every 3 years.
- Babies born with a low birth weight will be reviewed again at 1 year old.
- As part of the review process, you might have to give proof that your child has been receiving medical treatment that is medically necessary.
As long as your child remains approved to get SSI, they will receive payments until age 18.
At age 18, your child must re-apply for SSI. Your child might have to show proof (again) that they have a disability or special health care need that qualifies them for SSI. But the biggest change is with the income qualification. The agency will make a decision to approve (or deny) your adult child for SSI based only on their income, savings, and the value of certain things they own. Your family’s income and savings are no longer part of the decision.
How to Apply for SSI For a Child
Start by reading about SSI online or visit your nearest Social Security Administration office to gather forms, ask questions, and get ready to apply. You can find the office using the Social Security Office Locator.
If your child is age 17 or younger:
- Download or ask for the Child Disability Starter Kit.
- Once you have read through the Starter Kit, fill out the Child Disability Report.
- Next, you will need to gather the school and medical forms asked for in the Starter Kit as well as other important documents (see list below).
- Call the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213 (or 1-800-325-0778 if you are deaf or hard of hearing) and make an appointment for an interview in your local office. You will be asked to show your proof and paperwork and answer questions about your child, including questions that are in the Child Disability Report.
If your child is age 18 or older:
- Gather the documents and proof listed below.
- Apply for SSI online or call the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213 (or 1-800-325-0778 if you are deaf or hard of hearing) and make an appointment for an interview in your local office.
After you apply:
- Expect to wait 5 or 6 months for an answer. SSI payments are made to some children and infants during the waiting period, including those with total blindness and certain intellectual disabilities.
- Texas Disability Determination Services (DDS) is the agency that decides if your child is approved for SSI payments. Sometimes, if the DDS doctor cannot make a decision based only on your child’s application forms, DDS might ask your child to take a test or have a medical examination at no cost to you.
Finding Records and Documents
You will need to have important documents handy during the SSI application process. It is crucial to keep your child’s medical records organized in a care notebook with all your child’s medical and educational paperwork. The Social Security Administration will ask for many of these documents and accepts original documents only.
Here is a partial list of documents and proof to gather. We recommend you read over the full list of documents you may need on the SSI website.
- Identification and proof of age: your child’s birth record or certificate and their Social Security card or number. (You will have to apply for one for your child if you don’t have it.)
- Proof of income: payroll stubs, tax returns, and checking account statements for the family or for your adult child.
- Proof of living arrangements: rent receipt, deed, or property tax bill for the family.
- Medical records: names of all your child’s medications, names and addresses of their doctors and other medical providers, and medical reports.
- Education documents: a copy of your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP), names and addresses of all teachers, caregivers and school therapists who see your child.
Once your child is approved for SSI, they will begin getting monthly payments, including back pay, for the months in the waiting period. If you want to learn more, the Social Security Administration has a web page about the application process and your rights.
Suggested Links to Additional Resources