Government Benefits

Federal benefits are diverse, numerous and sometimes overlapping. They cover many areas, such as insurance benefits, community life, education, employment, health, housing, technology and transportation. For the purposes of this e-Toolkit, we focus on the principal Social Security programs that pay benefits to children and are therefore important to transition planning. The site offers parents and guardians of children with medically fragile conditions a wealth of important resources. It is a new federal government website that provides a community-driven information network of disability-related programs, services, laws and benefits. The site covers 10 main subject areas – benefits, civil rights, community life, education, emergency preparedness, employment, health, housing, technology and transportation (34).

Social Security

Social Security has two programs that pay disability benefits to children:

  • Social Security Disability Insurance
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

If you retire, become disabled, or die, Social Security benefits may be paid to your children over 18 who have been disabled before the age of 22 and continue to be disabled. Social Security benefits for disabled children may continue as long as they are unable to work because of their disability. (Social Security benefits to all other children stop at age 18.)

Supplemental Security Income for Children with Disabilities

The SSI program can provide valuable monthly cash benefits to children with disabilities under SSA rules and whose families have little income or resources.  Determining whether a child is disabled under SSI regulations is a collaborative effort between Federal and State officials (35).

Under the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, Social Security can provide benefits to children with disabilities. A child who is eligible for Federal SSI cash benefits is also eligible, depending on the State, for State supplemental payments, Medicaid, food stamps, and other social services. This financial, medical and rehabilitation services support may enable a child to achieve a level of functioning that gives him or her significant degree of self support. When this support is coupled with various work incentives provided by the disability program, it can ultimately lead a child to independence so that he or she can leave the disability rolls.

To receive SSI payments, a child must meet two sets of eligibility criteria: financial criteria based on the income and resources of the child and family; and medical criteria about the child’s impairment or combination of impairments.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

SSDI is a monthly benefit for people who have worked in the past and paid Social Security taxes. SSDI benefits are paid to people who are unable to work for a year or more because of their disability. The medical requirements for disability payments are the same under both Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs, and the same process is used for both programs to determine an individual’s disability.

Children with Disabilities under 18 years of Age

Social Security makes payment under the SSI program to children under 18 with disabilities whose families have little income and resources. SSI payments are based on need rather than prior work and may be paid to children regardless whether a parent is retired, disabled or has died. These benefits also continue as long as the child is disabled and has little income or resources (36).

A child under 18 is considered to have a disability if his or her physical or mental condition is so severe that it results in marked and severe functional limitations. The condition must last or be expected to last at least 12 months or be expected to result in the child’s death. And of course, the child must not be working at a job that could be considered as substantial work.

Children with Disabilities 18 years or older

Under both Social Security Disability and SSI, children 18 or older are considered disabled if they meet the adult definition of disability. Social Security pays beenfits to people who cannot work because they have a medical condition expected to last one year or result in death.

Social Security’s toll-free number, 800-772-1213, operates from 7am to 7pm on Monday through Friday. If you have a touch-tone phone, recorded information and services are available 24 hours a day, including weekends and holidays. People who are deaf or hard of hearing may call the toll-free “TTY” number, 800-325-0778, between 7am and 7pm on Monday through Friday. Have your Social Security number handy when you call.  Or visit your local Social Security Office.