Does Your Child Qualify for Supplemental Security Income? Dispelling Misconceptions
Supplemental Security (SSI) is a federal program that distributes monthly cash payments for food and shelter to qualifying individuals with disabilities. Eligibility is based on both a determination of “disability” and financial need, with recipients having no more than $2,000 in countable resources. With individuals receiving up to $750 monthly (for 2018), Supplemental Security Income is often a critical benefit for people who need assistance, and an important building block for special needs planning. But the rules are complicated, and misconceptions often prevent individuals and their families applying or qualifying for the full benefit to which they are entitled. Should your child be receiving Supplemental Security Income?
Available to All Ages
Even newborns may qualify for Supplemental Security Income, but the family’s finances are considered when assessing the eligibility of minors. A portion of parents’ resources will be counted when evaluating unmarried individuals under 18 (up to 22 if attending school), if mom and dad don’t themselves receive SSI or other government financial aid. The number of parents and “ineligible” children at home will determine income/asset limits. For instance, in 2018, if all of the income of a family of four, consisting of two parents and two children, one of whom has disabilities, is earned income, the amount of income will need to be less than about $4,100.
The child’s disability must result in “severe functional limitations” anticipated to last for at least 12 months or lead to death. Aside from the most apparent and severe disabilities, however, it can be difficult for youngsters to meet SSI’s definition of disability. One reason for this is that many childhood conditions improve over time, and SSI only reevaluates an individual’s disability every two years.
The rules change when someone turns 18, when they reach legal adulthood. At this point, their disability must prevent substantial gainful activity for at least 12 months or be expected to lead to death. In addition, they’ll be evaluated on their personal financial profile, independent of their other family members’ income. If an individual is ineligible for SSI because of excess countable resources, it may become important to establish a first party special needs trust (SNT) to manage the excess resources. Additionally, if an individual will continue to need SSI, third parties may want to set up a different type of trust to receive gifts or inheritance on behalf of the SSI beneficiary. Funds held in, or distributed by, such trusts won’t affect someone’s eligibility for SSI, so this enables the individual to enjoy better quality of life, using SSI as a foundation.
Getting to Yes
The better prepared you are before applying, the likelier your chance of success. Check beforehand with someone who’s familiar with the system, such as a special needs attorney, because SSI administrators sometimes ask unexpected questions. Collect as much medical documentation as possible, and note that for ADHD and learning disabilities, a teacher’s assessment is also necessary. Once you’ve done your homework, you should be able to handle the process on your own.
And if you’re initially denied, don’t give up. You have the legal right to challenge decisions you believe are flawed. While there are strict procedures to follow, many appeals are successful. You can find helpful details concerning the process here.
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