Published on: March 11, 2014
For adults, the trials of qualifying for Social Security Disability Income and/or Supplemental Security Income to help cope with disability are difficult enough. For children, however, there are even more obstacles to gaining approval for SSI benefits. For a dependent child to qualify for Supplemental Security Income benefits, there are several factors that affect their eligibility. Not only must the child's family meet certain conditions, there are specific qualifications the child must go through in order to be considered disabled. A child with a severe neurological disorder, such as frequent seizures, may be able to receive Supplemental Security Incom (SSI) benefits.
Section I - Parental/familial eligibility
First, the parents/legal guardians of the child must meet certain qualifications themselves. This means that, no matter how severe the child's disability may be, Social Security will not pay benefits to a dependent child if that child's family:
- Has assets in excess of a specific value
- Has monthly income in excess of a specific amount (determined by SSA and the state, see www.ssa.gov/regions/regional.html for specific information for your state)
If either of these financial limitations are exceeded, then the child will not be eligible for Supplemental Security Income benefits. Note, however, that this applies to children under the age of 18 only. This is because children under the age of 18 are considered dependents of their parents. If the child is older than 18, then he/she can apply for disability using the rules for adults.
Alternatively, the child could receive special SSDI benefits designed for adults disabled since childhood if they meet the following criteria:
- They were disabled before the age of 22
- A parent is receiving Social Security retirement or disability benefits
- A parent has died and earned enough work credits under Social Security to qualify
As the ssa.gov handbook for "Benefits for Children With Disabilities" states, such benefits are considered "a 'child's' benefit because it is paid on a parent's Social Security earnings record. Such benefits continue for as long as the disabled adult "child" remains disabled regardless of the work history of the disabled adult child.
Section II - Finances of the Child
Even though children are considered financially dependent on their caretakers, if the child is employed or otherwise earning income, then that income must be considered when reviewing the child's disability case. According to the ssa.gov website, if a child is earning more than $1,070 per month in 2014 than the child is earning sufficient income to not be considered disabled. The specific amount of income before a child hits the limit for SSDI consideration does fluctuate from year to year, so it is a good idea to check with an expert if you are considering having an employed child apply for Social Security benefits.
In addition to the monthly income limitation, children who are applying for SSI may be excluded from consideration for benefits if their total assets exceed a certain amount. For example, if a family member of the disabled child passes away and leaves a significant trust fund for the child, say $40,000, that child would become ineligible for Social Security benefits until such time as the trust became depleted to less than $2,000.
However, there are exceptions to such trust inheritance rules. Certain kinds of trusts, called special needs trusts, that make the money inaccessible to the beneficiary directly but instead make the money available for their needs can be excluded from consideration as an asset of the disabled beneficiary. If a disabled child is receiving benefits from a trust, it is important to consult a legal expert to determine whether or not that trust qualifies for exemption as an asset by the Social Security Administration.
Section III - Severity of Disability
Assuming the disabled child is financially qualified to receive SSI payments, the next step in determining if the child can be paid Supplemental Security Income benefits is to determine the severity of his or her condition. For a child suffering from seizures, the ssa.gov website categorizes their disability as category "111.02 major motor seizure disorder" or category "111.03 nonconvulsive epilepsy" under the broader category of "111.00 Neurological" disorders.
As the ssa.gov website explains, major motor seizure disorder is categorized by the following:
- Convulsive epilepsy, which involves the occurrence of more than one grand mal seizure per month despite a minimum of three months of, prescribed treatment. This condition includes both daytime and nighttime episodes, where seizures can cause convulsions, loss of consciousness, and residual effects that prevent normal activity.
- Convulsive epilepsy syndrome which is established by the occurrence of, as the article on the ssa.gov website explains, "at least one major motor seizure in the year prior to application [for benefits] despite at least three months of prescribed treatment." This condition is also paired with one or more of the following conditions:
- IQ of 70 or lower
- Severe defects in speech, hearing, or visual capacity that inhibit the ability to communicate
- Significant mental disorder
- Medication side effects interfering with daily activities
The other seizure-related condition listed on the ssa.gov website is nonconvulsive epilepsy. This condition is generally less severe than major motor epilepsy, and is characterized by the occurrence of:
- More than one minor motor seizure per week
- Loss of consciousness
- Altered awareness
These symptoms, in order to be considered for disability, must have occurred despite three months or more of prescribed treatment.
Even if the child meets the description of major motor seizure disorder or nonconvulsive epilepsy as described by the SSA, the condition must significantly reduce a child's functionality in at least two of six domains, or create an extreme limitation in one. The six domains of child functionality that the SSA will evaluate are:
- The ability to acquire and use information
- The ability to complete tasks
- The ability to interact with and relate to others
- Capacity for care of self
- The ability to move and use objects
- Overall mental and physical well-being
If the child is found to possess a "marked limitation" in two or more categories, the child will be found to be disabled and will qualify for Supplemental Security Income benefits (SSI). The qualification for the SSA considering whether or not a child has a "marked limitation" in a specific category is based off of a comparison to other children of the subject's age. For example, if a child with seizures is unable to lift a small glass of water without assistance when other children of the same age can execute the action easily, then the SSA may find that that child has a "marked limitation" in the domain of moving and using objects.
It is certainly possible for a child with seizures to obtain Supplemental Security Income benefits, as long as the seizures present a significant functional disability and both the child and the family meet the financial prerequisites for consideration. However, no matter the severity of the disability, there is no guarantee of success when filing a claim for Supplemental Security Income-What is Supplemental Security Income? Because of this, it is important to consult an expert when applying for SSI for a disabled child in order to be able to best present your case to the Social Security Administration. Having the right experts help can mean the difference between a long, drawn-out struggle to claim the benefits to which you are entitled and having the money you need to support your child when you need it.