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Benefits for Disabled Children - Debate Over SSI

  • Published: 2012-02-12 : Author: Helzer Cromar & Schneider, LLP
  • Synopsis: Children with disabilities whose parents meet income limits may be eligible to receive cash benefits through Supplemental Security Income SSI.
Supplemental Security Income
Supplemental Security Income - A U.S. Federal income supplement program funded by general tax revenues (not Social Security taxes): It is designed to help aged, blind, and disabled people, who have little or no income; and It provides cash to meet basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter. The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program pays benefits to disabled adults and children who have limited income and resources. SSI benefits also are payable to people 65 and older without disabilities who meet the financial limits.

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Children with disabilities may be eligible to receive benefits through SSI. However, the program has some critics questioning the disabilities that qualify children for benefits.

Children with disabilities whose parents meet income limits may be eligible to receive cash benefits through Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and in recent years, the number of children receiving SSI disability benefits has grown significantly. However, the expansion of the program has some critics questioning the disabilities that qualify children for benefits and whether so many should be receiving them through SSI instead of other programs.

SSI Disability Benefits for Children

Today, a child with a disability living in a low-income family may receive monthly cash benefits through the SSI program as long as he or she meets certain criteria set by the SSA and are less than eighteen years old. Unfortunately, some Oregon social security disability attorneys say the criteria for eligibility are lengthy.

First, the child must have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets the SSA's definition of disability for children, which states that:

The child must have a physical or mental condition that results in marked and severe functional limitations that restrict his or her activities, and

The condition must have lasted at least one year, or be expected to last at least one year or result in death

Second, the child and his or her parents' income and resources must be within the SSA's limits. This means that, for 2011, the child must not be working and making more than an average of $1,000 each month, which the SSA considers "substantial gainful activity." The average monthly earnings threshold for substantial gainful activity is set by the SSA each year. In addition, the resources of any parents the child lives with also are considered to evaluate the child's eligibility for SSI disability benefits.

The SSA's disability evaluations for a child are actually made by state agencies, and the process can take several months. Because of this delay, a child with a severe condition is automatically deemed disabled and will immediately receive SSI disability benefits for up to a six-month period while a final decision is made.

Some conditions that may qualify a child for immediate SSI disability benefits include:

Total blindness or deafness

Cerebral palsy

Muscular dystrophy

Down syndrome

HIV infection

If a child automatically receives SSI disability benefits for one or more of these conditions but the state agency later decides that the condition is not severe enough to qualify for benefits, the child does not have to forfeit the payments he or she already received.

SSI Benefits for Children with Mental-Health Problems Questioned

Data from the Social Security Administration (SSA), which runs the SSI program, shows that almost 1.2 million children in low-income families receive SSI benefits because of severe disabilities. Over the past 10 years, the SSI program has grown by about 40 percent.

According to National Public Radio (NPR), the largest increases in SSI disability benefits granted have been for children with mental, behavioral and learning disorders such as:

Bipolar disorder


Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Based on fears of government waste and potential abuse of the SSI program, three Republican legislators, Senator Scott Brown, Representative Geoff Davis and Representative Richard E. Neal, have requested an investigation by the Government Accountability Office into the SSI program for children with mental health conditions.

One of their concerns is that families may be needlessly medicating their children under the mistaken belief that medication is necessary to qualify for SSI disability benefits. However, NPR reports that a preliminary study conducted by the SSA revealed that children with ADHD who were on medicine were no more likely to be approved for SSI disability benefits than children with ADHD who were not medicated.

Also, critics suspect that some people improperly use the SSI program for children with disabilities as another general welfare program for kids in low-income families. But advocates say the increase in the number of children receiving SSI benefits for mental health conditions is a result of greater access to health care and increased screening for children's mental health problems, which leads to earlier and more frequent diagnoses.

Whichever the viewpoint, children with disabilities through no fault of their own are growing and will continue to need assistance.

Article provided by Helzer Cromar & Schneider, LLP - Visit us at

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