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.
SSI continues to evaluate beneficiary resources as long as payments are being made. Having more than $1,170 in income and/or more than $2,000 in assets will reduce or eliminate SSI benefits. Since SSI is intended for food and shelter, payments will also decrease if someone besides the beneficiary helps to pay such expenses.
This can get tricky for individuals who are no longer in high school (age 18/22) and living with family members. In order to receive their full SSI payment, a rental-and-food agreement should be put in place and paid with SSI funds. You can learn more about this complicated subject here.
An important caveat: It doesn’t affect SSI if family members and SNTs pay vendors directly for goods and services on behalf of the individual—with the exception of food and shelter.
Yes, You Can Work
Having a career is an important avenue to independence, but many would-be job seekers are afraid that once employed, they’ll immediately lose benefits. They worry that if they accept a position that doesn’t work out or their disability worsens, it’ll be difficult to get reinstated. Not so.
The government wants to encourage individuals to become as self-sufficient as possible. For that reason, the Social Security Administration has numerous programs designed to provide a safety net while SSI recipients test the workplace. In fact, the agency’s Ticket to Work provides free employment services to SSI recipients through approved providers.
Another program, Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS) enables individuals to set aside funds to cover expenses they’ll face while preparing for employment. Such resources are exempt from SSI calculations.
An unmarried individual can have a maximum of $741 per month in earned/unearned income after accounting for disability-related work expenses and an earned income exclusion of up to $85. They can deduct job-related expenses even if they’re also related to non-work activities, such as medications and assistive technology. Students under 22 can exclude as much as $1,790 per month, up to a maximum of $7,200 annually. If earnings temporarily exceed the limit, then drop, they can be reinstated without reapplying. If they stop working within five years of losing SSI, Expedited Reinstatement entitles them to up to six months of cash benefits while a medical review is conducted.
So, if you haven’t applied for SSI for your child, be sure you’re not overlooking an important public benefit. And if you’ve been turned down in the past, consider appealing. SSI is the bedrock on which thousands of individuals with disabilities build their financial security.
Scott C. Suzuki, Esq., is the immediate past president of the Special Needs Alliance (SNA®), a national nonprofit of attorneys committed to assisting individuals with disabilities, their families and the professionals who serve them.
You May Also Like
- Financial Planning: For Those Who Are at the Starting Line
- “Instruction Manual” for Your Child with Special Needs
- Guardianship: A Basic Understanding for Parents
- Special Needs (or Supplemental Needs) Trusts 101
- Common Mistakes Parents Make with Their Special Needs Trusts
- Special Needs Planning: What is a Special Needs Trust?
- Social Security Benefits: Understanding How To Work?
- 9 Things You Need to Know to Maximize Your Child’s Benefits
- Able Accounts and Taxes: What Special Needs Families Need to Know
- Able Account or Special Needs Trust: How to Decide?
- ABLE Accounts: 10 Things You Should Know
- Handling Your Child’s Diagnosis: Six Things Parents Should Do For Themselves
- A Special Need Planning Timeline: 9 Steps to a Sound Family Plan
- Plan Early for Your Child’s Long-Term Security
- Able Account or Special Needs Trust: How to Decide?
- How to Select a Special Needs Attorney
This post originally appeared on our March/April 2018 Magazine