The Ins and Outs of SSI and SSDI for Youth and Young Adults with Disabilities

Road sign displaying words like "Confused," "Lost," and "Unsure"Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) can both be incredibly confusing and disorienting to families, yet they can also be a great and needed resource. To help our youth and families navigate these confusing programs, we recently had Svetlana Uimenkova (Staff Attorney at the Disability Law Center) hold an SSI/SSDI webinar for many of our participants. You can view the recording of this webinar online.

We also are lucky enough to have a blog post on this subject contributed by Deanna Power from the Disability Benefits Center. Thanks to both Svetlana and Deanna for contributing such useful information for our families!

Supplemental Security Income, also known as SSI, refers to Social Security Disability benefits for lower-income disabled individuals or a child with a severe disability and developmental or physical limitations caused by a disability. This program, administered by the Social Security Administration, is a government-funded program that helps financially support a child with a disability, enabling the parents to offer the necessary care for that child, bring the child up to speed developmentally if possible, and ultimately offer the ability for the child to reach his or her full potential in life by increasing the quality of life for the child and the family. SSI benefits are income-based benefits and can go toward helping families pay for medical expenses, in-home care, education, specialized developmental help, and more.

Qualifying for SSI

Asset limits are very different for children applying for SSI benefits than adults. Adults must not earn more than $733 per month to qualify for SSI benefits, and they also must not own more than $2,000 in assets. These restrictions do not apply to adults applying for SSI benefits for their children, although some income limits do exist. The SSA gives a decent guideline of how much income a family can make per month for their children to qualify for disability benefits, but most states have their own laws on income limits, making the SSA’s guideline more lenient than it appears. Some states will also give parents additional benefits. Read more about monthly income limits for children applying for SSI here.

Guidelines for Receiving SSI

The Social Security Administration offers guidelines as to where and how the money a child receives for SSI is spent and invested. Guidelines for receiving SSI benefits for a child are strict, so the money going into the family for the child’s disability must be used appropriately. The SSA Blue Book is used to identify the condition and severity of condition of the child. The SSA is concerned with the child receiving the best care and equipment that he or she needs to achieve the best possible quality of life. If benefits are awarded, a checking account created specifically for the use and tracking of SSI money must be created. This checking account helps keep a log of purchases made for the child. In addition, parents or guardians will have to submit every purchase to the SSA for review to ensure these purchases are acceptable necessities for the child so that all of the money given is used to help a child reach his/her full potential.

Acceptable Purchases with SSA Money

There are several purchases with SSA money that are not acceptable ones for the child’s SSA Blue Book disability, including anything personal to the parents and non-medical or developmentally related products or services. Acceptable purchases with SSI money dedicated to a child’s disability and overcoming/treating it include:

  • Medical treatment
  • Education
  • Personal Needs Assistance (in-home care)
  • Special Equipment
  • Housing Modification (to make a child’s room wheelchair accessible, for instance)
  • Therapy, both physical and mental
  • Rehabilitation
  • Other SSA-approved products and services

SSI payments are not to be used for other household needs such as rent or food, unless the child is in danger of starvation or becoming homeless.

Applying for SSI

The rules and regulations applied to receiving SSI benefits for a disabled child’s needs are significant, but the help these funds offer families without the financial ability to ensure their child maintains as much independence and developmental progress as possible are more so. Unlike disability benefits for adults, SSI applications for children must be made in person. Making an appointment with the closest SSA office and bringing in as much supporting documentation as possible pertaining to the child’s disability and the developmental issues related to it as well as proof of the income of the household are all you need to get the process started. The SSA offers a Child Disability Starter Kit to help parents prepare for their trip to the SSA office.

After the application process has started, it will take approximately two to four months for your child to receive a decision regarding his or her disability claim and begin receiving benefits. If denied, you have a right to appeal the denial. You can do so on the Social Security Administration’s website.

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