LAW FIRM BLOG
Childrens Disability Benefits
January 06, 2020
Children can, and do, qualify for Social Security Disability benefits in certain situations. In fact, according to the Social Security Administration (SSA), there were approximately 4.2 million children who received $2.6 billion in aid each month in 2017, the latest data available. There are three different ways children can collect Social Security Disability benefits.
Low-income Disabled Children
Disabled children whose families have low income can collect Supplemental Security Income (SSI) begining as early as the day they were born, until they are 18 years old, at which time they might be eligible to start collecting adult SSI benefits.
Children Who Qualify for Dependent's Benefits
Children who are younger than 18 years old (or 19 if a full-time student) and have a parent who is currently receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Social Security retirement benefits (or who had earned enough Social Security credits to earn one of these benefits before dying) may be able to collect "dependents" benefits based on their parents' records, whether they are disabled or not.
Adults Disabled Since Childhood
Disabled children who are older than 18 years old but who became disabled before they turn 22 can collect disability benefits if they have a parent collecting SSDI or Social Security retirement income (or a deceased parent who was entitled to one of the benefits before their death).
Let's examine these categories in more detail.
SSI Benefits for Disabled Children
The SSI program provides benefits to disabled adults and children who have limited income and financial resources. In order to qualify, the child, under 18 years of age, must meet the SSA's definition of disability for children. That requires the child to have a physical or mental condition that very seriously limits the child's activities, and the condition must have lasted or be expected to last at least one year or be a termininal condition. In SSA lanquage, the disability must cause "marked and severe functional limitations." An unmarried disabled person under age 22 attending secondary school full-time may also qualify. However, a child enrolled in college is not considered to be a full-time student for the purpose of receiving these benefits.
To determine eligibility for SSI, you also have to meet the financial resources test. Since most children have negligible income the SSA considers the income and resources of the entire household. This is called "deemed income." The family must have no more than $2,000 (for a single parent) and $3,000 (for two married parents) in assets. Assests are, for example, cash, land, stocks and bonds, or anything one can use to pay for food and shelter. Several assets, however, don't count as financial resources, including the home where the child lives, one vehicle used for transportation, and various household goods and personal effects.
The monthly maximum payment amount, also known as the "Federal Benefit Rate" (FBR), under SSI for 2020 is $783 (increased annually based on cost-of-living adjustments) for a single person not deemed to have any income, but that figure is subject to reduction depending on certain types of income. Also, some states provide an additional supplement to SSI recipients. In the case of children, the program initially looks at the income the child's parents have, but it doesn't include every source of income. For instance, the first $65 of earned income each month, plus one-half of the excess, is excluded from countable income for purposes of reducing the SSI payment. In addition, the value of food stamps, welfare payments, income tax refunds, and medical bills you or someone else pay on the child's behalf aren't counted. For children who have income, their benefit amount will be the difference between their countable income and the FBR. Generally speaking, the more income or resources your child (or the household) has, the less your child's SSI benefit will be.
After turning 18, the disabled child will have to qualify for SSI as an adult. That is, he or she will have to fit the adult definition of disability and financial criteria for adult beneficiaries. This is called "redetermination." The family's income and resources will no longer be considered as part of the eligibility determination for SSI, although if the child still receives food and shelter from the parents (called "in-kind" income), the SSA may lower the child's disability payment. In this case, the value of food and shelter your adult child receives can be counted toward his of her monthly income.
Here is an example. Kim is a 35 year-old woman who suffered a stroke that left her severely disabled when she was 21. She lives with her parents who also provide her food. Her parents also pay for her medical bills that are not covered by insurance. Even though she is not getting cash payments from her parents, the SSA considers the value of the food and shelter they give her as "in-kind" income. The SSA's rule is that in-kind income will reduce the maximun benefit amount that a person is entitled to by 1/3 if the person is living with someone else and not contributing financially towards food and shelter. Kim has no other income (the money paid toward her medical bills isn't counted). Her federal monthly benefit amount is $526 ($783-$257). Since she lives in the state of New York, which provides a $23 state supplement to SSI recipiants who live in someone else's household, her total SSI payment is $549 ($526 plus $23).
Social Security Dependents Benefits
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a federal program primarily designed to aid people who have become disabled after having worked for a certain amount of time. Even if your child is already getting SSI, he or she may be eligible for benefits based on your earnings. Unlike SSI, SSDI is not a needs-based program, which means there are no income and asset restrictions. Instead, a beneficiary typically has to have paid into the Social Security system for at least five of the last ten years prior to their disability. An SSDI benefit depends on the beneficiary's income before he became disabled, the size of his family, and the amount paid into the Social Security system.
Children, disabled or not, can qualify for Social Security benefits based on the record of a disabled parent if their parent, adoptive parent, or stepparent is receiving Social Security retirement or disability benefits (SSDI), or was entitled to one of these benefits before they died. When a child collects benefits based on the Social Security earnings record of the parent, they are known as "dependents benefits" or "auxiliary benefits." In some cases, a grandchild or stepgrandchild can also be eligible for dependents benefits (if there is no living parent).
A child is eligible for up to 50% of the parent's monthly benefit, subject to a family maximum.
Note: There are no regular SSDI disability benefits for a disabled child who is under 18. A disabled child under 18 may collect either SSI or, if a parent is collecting Social Security benefits (or collected them before dying), auxiliary benefits.
The anount of money a child can receive as a dependent adult is directly related to the amount that the parent paid into the Social Security system while they were able to work. If the child's parents paid very little into the Social Security system, then it is possible that the child may not receive any Social Secirity Disability benefits. However, if the parent paid enough Social Security taxes when they were employed, then the auxiliary Social Security benefits for the child will reflect this fact and the child could receive a monthly benefit. This benefit is limited, however, to the child's status as a dependent. If a child is receiving as the dependent of a disabled adult, those benefits terminate when the child reaches adulthood.
SSDI Benefits for Disabled Young Adults or Adult Children
This category of benefits, often called "adult child" benefits, is really an extention of the dependents benefits discussed above; the extention is for children with a "qualifying disability" only. For a child who is disabled when he or she turns 18, or for a young adult who becomes disabled before turning 22, the Social Security dependents benefits discussed above can be continued indefinitely for as long as the person is disabled. The only diffenence in an adult child's eligibility determination is the fact that the parent's work credits are accounted for rather than the child's in deciding if the child has sufficient contributions to the SSDI fund to meet this portion of the general eligibility criteria for receiving disability benefits. That is, the disabled child can collect SSDI if a parent, adoptive parent or stepparent is receiving Social Security retirement or disability benefits (SSDI) or was entitled to one of these benefits before they died.
The young adult must meet Social Security's adult definition of disability. That is, the impairment, or treatment for your impairment, causes you to be unable to preform substantial work. This dependent benefit is sometimes called a "child's benefit" because it is using the parent's earning record, not because the person needs to be young. Sometimes these benefits can start when the "child" is much older than 18 or 22. This happens when the disabled child's parents don't start collecting Social Security benefits until retirement and the disabled child is suddenly eligible for the child's disability benefit at that point. The SSA refers to this benefit as SSDI for "adults disabled since childhood," or Disabled Adult Child (DAC) even though the disability needs only to have started before age 22.
If an adult disabled child and her parents meet all of these qualifications, then the "child" should be able to receive a substantial benefit, often greater than a SSI award. In addition to the monetary gain, the child does not have to worry about her own unearned income or assets, since SSDI does not take these into account. However, if a child earns enough income through employment, the SSA calls this "Substantial Gainful Employment" (SGA), the SSA may determine that she is no longer disabled and cancel her SSDI benefits. For 2020, SGA is defined as earning $1,260 or more a month from work. The parents own retirement benefits are not affected by their child's receipt of SSDI, and the child can still qualify for SSI benefits if her SSDI payments, which count as unearned income for SSI purposes, do not disqualify her.
Parents who have not begun to receive their own Social Security income but who think that their child may qualify for SSDI in the future may want to have their children screened by the Social Security system for his disability before he reaches age 22. If this is not possible, it pays to have the child's physician clearly document all of the information surrounding the child's disability from as early an age as possible. This way, when the parent does retire, the child has a long record showing the presence of the disabling condition before he turned 22, making the SSDI application easier.
Are my Children Eligible for Dependent Benefits?
Dependent benefits are available to a biological child (by birth) and adopted child (legal or equitable) or a dependent stepchild. A grandchild may also be eligible if there is no living parent. Both children born during a marriage and those born out of wedlock are eligible for benefits. To receive them, the child must meet the following criteria:
•Have a parent(s) (or grandparent) who is disabled or retired and eligible for Social Security benefits
•Be younger than 18 years old or up to age 19 if he of she is a full time secondary school student
•Be 18 years or older and disabled (as long as the disability began before the individual turned age 22)
•Meets the SSA's adult definition of disabled
•Be financially dependent on the disabled parent (or grandparent).
What if my Child Worked Before Becoming Disabled?
Even if your child became disabled before turning 22, he or she may have worked enough to get SSDI on her own work history. In this case, your child could get disability benefits without applying as your dependent. However, your child may be entitled to higher benefits based on the parent's earning record. In most instances, the amout of benefits an adult child can receive are higher if they qualify under their parents' eligibility instead. This is because the adult child typically has a much more limited work history which can affect the amount of their monthly SSDI payments. Consider which benefit would be higher--the disability benefits based on your child's earnings record or the dependents benefits based on your earnings record.
Does it Matter that my Eligible Child Never worked?
No. This is because this benefit is based on your earnings record only.
Will my Child's Benefits Stop if he gets Married?
If your disabled adult child has been getting benefits based on a disability she has had since she was a child, she will usually become ineligible once she gets married. However, if your child gets married to someone who is also eligible for disability benefits, she can keep the benefits that are based on their parents' earnings record. This is considered a "protected marriage."
Children's SSDI Benefit Amounts
The most your child can receive (whether under 18 or over 18 and disabled) is 50% of the parent's monthly retirement or disability payment which depends on the parent's lifetime earnings record. The higher the disabled parent's lifetime average earnings, then the higher the child's monthly SSDI benefit will be. If there are other children collecting payment as well, however, the amount will be lowered. There is a family cap on the monthly benefits amount that is generally 150% to 180% of your payment amount, including your payment.
For example, a disabled parent whose Average Indexed Monthly Earnings (AIME) are $3,000 per month might receive an SSDI check for approximately $1,400 per month, and the child might receive approximately $700 per month. A disabled parent who earned twice as much money while working might have an AIME of $6,000 per month and receive a disability check for $2,100 per month, while the child receives a child's benefit of approximately $1,050 per month. However, if more than one child is receiving Social Security benefits based on the disabled parent's record, the childrens' benefits will be subject to a family maximum (see below), and reduced according to a formula.
Maximum Family Benefit
When a minor child receives a monthly cash benefit at the same time that a disabled parent is receiving a monthly SSDI check, the sum of the payments is subject to a Maximum Family Benefit (MFB) amount. When the disabled parent's disability benefit is combined with benefits for two or more children, the sum often exceeds the maximum family benefit amount.
The MFB is different in each case, but is typically 150% to 180% of the disabled parent's disability benefit amount and that applies to the total of what the worker, and all children receive. Note that the SSDI benefits of the disabled parent (the claimant) are never reduced when a family member receives auxiliary benefits.
If the sum of the benefits payable to all the family members goes over the maximum family benefit, each person's benefit is reduced proportionally (except the disabled parent's) until the sum of all family member's beneifts equals the family maximum. Thus, the minor child may receive less than 50% of the disabled parent's benefit payment if the family maximun applies. However, if a parent had low earnings or didn't work long enough to pay enough Social Security taxes before becoming disabled, there might not be enough credits on his work record to pay any dependent benefits.
Here's another example. If you are an unmarried parent with four children and you become disabled, each child could potentially receive 50% of your SSDI award. However, if each child received 50% of your award, Social Security would be paying out 300% of your total award (100% received by you and 50% received by each of your four children). Therefore, the parent would receive 100% as the disabled individual and the children would have their percentages lowered equally until the total family benefit fell below the percentage limit set by Social Security.
A dependent minor child whose parent died while receiving retirement or SSDI disability benefits (or whose parent had enough Social Security credits to qualify for benefits at death) is eligible for a monthly survivor benefit.
The amount children receive as survivor benefits is larger than what the same child would get while the parent is still living. Typically, survivor benefits are 75% of the deceased parent's full benefit amount. However, similar family maximum provisions apply to reduce what a child gets in survivor benefits.
If I am Approved for Disability Will My Children Get Benefits?
Whether your child or children will get Social Security dependent benefits depends on which disability benefits you've been approved for, SSDI or SSI. Only SSDI provides dependents benefits to your children. SSI provides no benefit to anyone but the disabled individule, though disabled children can receive disability benefits under SSI if they meet the criteria for being disabled.
Can Grandchildren Receive Dependents' Benefits?
It is possible for grandchildren or step-grandchildren to receive dependents benefits if a grandparent is collecting SSDI. In order to receive these dependents benefits, all of the following must be true:
•The parents of the grandchild must be deceased or disabled.
•The grandchildren have lived with you for the 12 month before they became eligible for SSDI or, if under 12 months old, they have lived with you for substantially their entire lives.
•The grandchild must have begun living with the grandparent before he or she turned 18 years old.
•The grandchild must have received at least half of his or her financial support from the grandparent in the year before the grandparent became eligible to receive SSDI benefits.
Proving Child Disability is Very Difficult
While children are ultimately awarded at rates similar to adults, they are more likely to have their claim approved in the initial application stage. However, in the hearing stage, only 20.4% of childhood disability clains were successfully appealed compared to 39.2% for adults in 2013. Childhood disability claims are most commonly denied because the impairment does not cause "severe functional limitations."
It can be especialy difficult to demonstrate how conditions which are not physically obvious, such as, ADHD or Autism, cause severe limitation of daily activities. The majority of childhood applications are for mental health issues. Roughly 70% of children receiving SSI are receiving benefits on the basis of a mental health condition.