Disability benefits for disabled children
On behalf of David Dopkin
For most adults to qualify for Social Security Disability, they must have worked both recently enough and long enough. The specific amount varies based on the person’s age at the time they apply for benefits. The question, of course, is what happens in the case of a disabled child. Most children under the age of 18 will not have sufficient work history, and this is particularly true in the case of very young children.
Federal law has considered this problem. A child under the age of 18 is eligible for Social Security Income (SSI) disability benefits if they are disabled and their household has little or no income and resources (certain personal property). The definition of disability is different for children than for adults. To be considered disabled, a child must:
- Have a physical or mental condition that limits severely the child’s activities.
- The condition must last for 12 months or result in death.
In these situations, benefits can continue generally until the child reaches age 18, or age 19 if he or she is still attending school.
Adult disabled children
An exception arises where one of the child’s parent either dies or starts receiving Social Security benefits of some kind (retirement or disability). In that case, the child may receive benefits himself or herself, as long as the following criteria are met:
- The child is over 18.
- The child is not married.
- The child’s disability started before age 22.
The child’s benefits will be based on the parent’s work record, so the child need not have worked in order to qualify. However, the child must meet the same definition of “disability” as an adult. Specifically, the child must be unable to do any “substantial gainful activity” due to a physical or mental impairment, as determined by a doctor, which may result in death or will last for 12 continuous months.
“Gainful activity” here focuses on employment. For example, someone who is working at the time of application is automatically deemed not disabled under federal law. On the other hand, if the person cannot do “any other substantial gainful activity” considering his or her experience and education, he or she will likely be considered to be disabled.
The definition of disability for a child does not generally consider whether he or she may work (unlike the definition for adults). Therefore it is possible for a child to work and continue receiving benefits. In general, the Social Security Administration does not consider the child’s income when determining the monthly benefit amount. In addition, the child can set out a Plan to Achieve Self-Support, which allows the child to set aside certain income that will not be counted when determining the monthly payment from Social Security.
Social Security disability is a complex area of law, with many rules and regulations. As you can see from this outline, the individual applicant’s situation has a strong effect on the success of his or her case. In light of this, there is no reason to attempt this process alone. If you wish to apply for benefits, you should find an experienced attorney to help you through the process.