At our law firm, we represent families who have kids with a variety of disabilities. From the time of diagnosis, legal issues present themselves concerning asset management that will need to continue throughout the disabled child’s life to preserve their eligibility for federal, state and local public benefit programs that support people with disabilities. We explore with the family the roles of special needs trusts and ABLE accounts, and we provide parental estate planning advice with the goal of preserving government benefit eligibility in mind.
What is SSI?
The Social Security Administration (SSA) administers the federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, which provides a monthly cash benefit to eligible recipients based on disability (or old age or blindness) and financial need. Many people do not know that SSI is available to children, but for an eligible child, the payments can begin from birth.
Raising a child with serious disabilities can be expensive, so SSI eligibility is worth investigating for a family with financial challenges. Caring for a child with extensive, special needs, which can be physical, emotional, sensory, mental or behavioral, can consume much of a parent’s time – some children require continual attention and care round the clock. This parental responsibility keeps some mothers and fathers from the time they need for working, putting even more financial strain on the family.
SSI child’s eligibility based on blindness or disability
An eligible “child” is someone under 18 or under 22 if attending school. The child may not be married or the head of a household.
The child must meet either SSI’s definition of disability or of blindness. Eligibility based on blindness is triggered if the child has a central visual acuity for distance of 20/200 or less in the stronger eye with a correcting lens, or if the better eye has a visual field limitation so that the “widest diameter of the visual field subtends an angle no greater than 20 degrees.” If the visual impairment does not meet the definition of blindness, the condition may still make the child SSI eligible as a disability.
For SSI purposes, the child’s “medically determinable physical or mental impairment” or combination of impairments must be expected to last at least a year or result in death. (Blindness does not have this duration requirement.) The key issue for disability is whether the impairment causes the child to have “marked and severe functional limitations.”
For a child to be financially eligible for SSI, they and their parents must have very low countable assets and income. The SSI financial eligibility rules are detailed and complicated.
An attorney can answer questions about SSI and other public benefit programs and how they may fit into special needs planning for the present and future.