Can a Child Qualify for Social Security Disability Benefits?

Many parents and guardians with children under the age of 18 wonder whether their children could qualify for Social Security disability benefits.  Disabled children under the age of 18 can qualify for benefits under the Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) program, which is administered by the Social Security Administration, depending on the nature of their disabilities, on their income, and on the resources available to them. According to 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(C)(i), a child under the age of 18 is disabled if the child “has a medically determinable physical or mental impairment, which results in marked and severe functional limitations, and which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.”  In simpler language, a “disability” for purposes of SSI benefits must be a very serious medical condition that will last for at least one year.  For example, a child who suffers from partial or total paralysis, or from mental retardation, could qualify for SSI benefits.  A child with a broken leg, however, would likely not qualify.

In addition to satisfying the definition of “disabled,” a child may not earn more than a certain amount from employment.  42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(C)(ii) states that a child under the age of 18 who “engages in substantial gainful activity” does not satisfy the definition of “disabled.”  This means that a child who is employed and who earns more than $1,000.00 per month from employment would not qualify for SSI benefits in 2011 (the limit on a child’s total monthly income changes every year).  At the same time, a child who is unemployed, or who is employed but earns less than $1,000.00 per month, could qualify.

Further, a determination of a child’s eligibility for SSI benefits also involves the income of the child’s parents or guardians.  This part of the eligibility determination can be relatively complicated, but in short, a child whose parents or guardians could be described as among the working poor would probably qualify, whereas a child whose parents could be described as among the middle or upper class would probably not qualify (or would qualify for only minimal benefits).

Normally, a determination of eligibility can take three to five months.  Children with certain conditions, however, can qualify for immediate benefit payments while the determination is pending.  Examples of conditions that would qualify a child to receive immediate payments include cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, HIV infection, muscular dystrophy, total blindness and total deafness.

Although the Social Security Administration publishes a number of self-help guides regarding the eligibility of children for SSI benefits, the process of applying for SSI benefits can be complex.  If you have questions about whether your child could be eligible to receive benefits, then you should consider a free consultation with an attorney focusing in Social Security law.