Disabled children can qualify for disability benefits through the SSI program. To prevail, they must satisfy both the medical and non-medical eligibility rules.
To qualify under the medical eligibility rules, a child must have a medically determinable physical or mental impairment or combination of impairments which result in marked and severe functional limitations. The impairment(s) must have lasted or be expected to last at least 12 months or be expected to result in death.
For adults, severity of impairment is measured by their ability to engage in work activity. For children, impairment is measured by their ability to engage in age-appropriate activities.
One way for children to prevail under the medical rules is by satisfying the requirements of a “Listing.” SSA has something called “Listing of Impairments – Childhood Listings” which is simply a list of medical conditions that are deemed severe enough to warrant automatic granting of benefits. The Listings include medical conditions such as cerebral palsy, brain tumors, epilepsy, spinal disorders, traumatic brain injury, autism, blindness, asthma, cystic fibrosis, heart disease, kidney disease, cancer, diabetes, and many, many other conditions. However, each listing has a unique set of criteria that must be satisfied, and this can be difficult.
The other, and perhaps easier, way for children to prevail under the medical rules is by “functionally equaling” the Listings. For a child to functionally equal the Listings, the child must have “marked” limitations in two of six areas of functioning (called “domains”) or an “extreme” limitation in one area. The six domains are as follows:
- Acquiring and Using Information
- Attending and Completing Tasks
- Moving About and Manipulating Objects
- Caring for Self
- Health and Physical Well-Being
A child may be eligible for SSI disability benefits beginning as early as the date of birth. There is no minimum age requirement.
A child may be eligible for SSI disability benefits until attaining the age of 18. When the child attains 18, SSA will then determine whether he or she still qualifies for disability under the adult rules. If he or she does not, then benefits will be terminated.
SSI is strictly reserved for low-income people, and so the same non-medical eligibility rules which apply to adults (see above) also apply to children.
If a child is under 18, not married, and lives at home with parent(s) who do not receive SSI benefits, SSA may consider a portion of the parents’ income and resources as if they were available to the child. SSA may also count the income earned by a step-parent or adoptive parent. SSA calls this process “deeming.” Thus, due to the deeming rules, if a child’s parents make too much money or have too many assets, the the child cannot receive SSI.