Social Security Benefits for Disabled Children | 2024 Edition

At some point you may ask yourself, Can I get SSI benefits for my child with special needs? The simple answer is yes, if your child is younger than 18 years*, has a disability or special need that results in severe limitations, and your family has limited income and resources.

If this is the case with your child, you can apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which provides minimum basic financial assistance to people (or parents of children) with disabilities. It consists of monthly payments to help pay for basic needs such as medical care, medical equipment, food, and even clothing items for your child. There is no minimum age to request the benefit, so your child can receive it at birth.

*Or younger than 22 years if your child is regularly attending school.

SSI Eligibility Requirements

To be considered eligible for SSI, your child must meet all of the below requirements:

  • Have a physical or neurological condition, or a combination of conditions, that very seriously limits his/her abilities to perform daily activities; or is blind;
  • Have a condition that has been, or is expected to be, disabling for at least one year; or a life-threatening condition;
  • Your child must not be working, or not earning more than $1,550 a month (if not blind) or $2,590 a month (if blind) in 2024 (note the values vary every year)

SSI rules about income and resources

The income and resources of your child and family members living with your child are considered when you apply for SSI. SSI may also apply if your child is away for school and returns home regularly, under your care.

For children under 18, part of the parent’s income and resources is considered as belonging to your child; this is called the “deeming” of income. SSI makes deductions from deemed income for parents and other children living in the home and considers the income sources.

Income may include both earned income – wages or net earnings from employment/self-employment – and unearned income – your social security benefits, pensions, or unemployment compensation.

Parents with earned income may earn up to $3,897 a month for single parents with one eligible child, or $4,841 for two-parent households in 2024. For unearned income, the limits are $1926 for single parents and $2,398 for two-parent households. The limits can vary based on the number of children in the household, and whether the family has more than one eligible child. See here for more information.

As for resources, these may include cash, bank accounts, stocks, mutual funds, U.S. savings bonds, land, personal property, vehicles, and life insurance. However, some resources such as the home you live in, the vehicle you use for transportation, property such as household goods, and life insurance of a face value of $1,500 or less, are not considered.

If the child applying for SSI lives with one parent, $2,000 of the parent’s total countable resources does not count; if the child lives with two parents, the value is $3,000. After subtracting these values, the remaining resources of the parents are considered to decide if the child may receive SSI.

To get the monthly benefit, the applicable resources you own must be less than $2,000 per disabled child and single parent, and $3,000 for a couple. For example, if you are a single parent and have one disabled child, your number is $4,000 ($2,000 for you and $2,000 for your child). If you are a couple with one child, your number is $5,000 ($2,000 for the child and $3,000 for the couple). If your resources are under these numbers, your child is eligible for SSI.

One warning to mention—some parents have reported receiving approval for SSI even though they were above income requirements. Months later, they received notification from the SSA stating they were not qualified due to income limits and owed back the money that was provided. This situation can be a strain on parents. When filling out the application, it is imperative to follow instructions and only apply if you meet the requirements. If you are unsure of anything at all, SSA urgently requests you to contact them with questions.

Mother at laptop with child and disabled child at her sides

How to apply for SSI

Before you apply, you should gather all information on your child’s condition from the previous year, including medical records, prescription information, and contact information of all doctors. You will also need your child’s birth certificate, any education/schooling information, and proof of current income and resources.

There are several ways you can use to apply for SSI benefits:

  • Make an appointment request online: you will be asked basic questions about yourself such as your name, date of birth, social security number, and contact information. A Social Security representative will send the appointment date to apply for SSI by email or phone within 7-14 business days.
  • Call Social Security to make an appointment: 1-800-772-1213, or TTY 1-800-325-0778.
  • Begin the application online: this process requires two steps. First, you will need to complete the online Child Disability Report with information on your child’s disability and how it impacts their ability to function. You will also be asked to permit your child’s doctors, therapists, and/or teachers to provide information on your child’s history. After submitting the record, you will get a call from Social Security Services within 3 to 5 business days for an interview to review your Child Disability Report, analyze whether the income and resources of the household are within allowed limits, and start the SSI application. 

After the interview, you have 30 days to submit the SSI application, which can be made in person or online. Then, you need to submit the required documents to the Social Security Administration office.

All submitted information will be reviewed by doctors and other trained staff at the Disability Determination Services (DDS) office in your state. If they are not able to make a decision based on your child’s medical and school records, they may contact you asking for additional information, or ask you to take your child for a medical examination, at no cost to you.

Ensure that your phone, email, and home address details are accurate, and inform the DDS if they change.

How long does SSI approval take?

The decision may take 3 to 6 months. Once a decision is made, you will receive a letter from DDS with the approval or denial.

How much does SSI pay?

The maximum monthly SSI payment for 2023 is $943 for an individual. The amount received depends on the total household income, resources, benefits, and also considers if a third party helps to pay expenses. For example, if your countable monthly income is $280, you will receive $663 from the SSA (corresponding to $943-$280).

The amount may differ according to the state you live in – some states add a supplement to the SSI payment.

When are the payments made?

Payments start on the first full month after the SSI approval. Your child may also be entitled to back pay, from the first full month after the month in which you initiated your application. If the total back pay is higher than three times the full benefit, it will be paid in up to three installments.

Disabilities that qualify for Compassionate Allowances

The SSA has identified a number of rare diseases, cancers, and other conditions that allow a child to be given priority status during the application process. If your child fits in this list, he/she is typically automatically approved. The Compassionate Allowance program was created in response to complaints regarding long wait times that often were detrimental to a child’s health. The list of conditions in the program can be found here. If your child’s condition is not on the list, the SSA accepts submissions for potential inclusion. Certain criteria must be met. For more info, see here.

Disabilities that qualify for temporary SSI payments

For some medical conditions, payments may be made immediately for up to 6 months, while the SSA determines whether your child meets the criteria for SSI. If they decide your child does not qualify for SSI, you will not have to pay back payments.

Some conditions that may qualify for immediate payments include total blindness or deafness, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, certain muscular dystrophies, severe intellectual disability (if your child is 4 years or older), HIV infection with symptoms, and a birth weight below 2 pounds. Low birth weight is evaluated from birth until your child attains one year, while failure to thrive is assessed from birth until your child completes three years. See the complete list here.

How regularly is each case reviewed?

After your child begins receiving SSI, his/her case is reviewed every three years to ensure the disability criteria still apply. This can happen more often, especially if his/her condition is expected to improve.

If your child is an infant born with a low birth weight, the review generally takes place when your child reaches one year old.

Even if your child’s disability isn’t expected to improve, Social Security may also review his/her condition more often than every three years. In such cases, you must confirm that your child’s condition is the same, and you may cite proof such as medical treatments or other therapies that your child has been receiving.

What happens when a child turns 18?

When your child turns 18 and is receiving SSI, the SSA will review his/her medical condition sometime in that 18th year.

The SSI decision is then made based on rules for adults with disabilities, which are different from the ones applied to children. For example, only the adult’s (and spouse’s, if applicable) income and resources count.

This means that if your child did not qualify for SSI because your income and resources exceeded the limits, they may be eligible as adults.

References and Further Reading:

Social Security Administration USA, Benefits For Children with Disabilities

Social Security Administration USA, How to apply for SSI

Social Security Administration USA, How much you could get from SSI

Special Kids Connect, SSI for children under 18

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