|Photo courtesy of SalFalko, Creative Commons|
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Children labeled as having “special needs” can vary dramatically when it comes to their symptoms and limitations. Some children have mild learning impairments while others have terminal illnesses. No matter the severity of your child’s condition, a disability or health condition is certain to impact the entire family.
Parents of children with special needs often dedicate a significant amount of time and effort to keeping their child happy and healthy. In order to fully support a child with special needs, parents may find that they need to reduce their professional workload or even leave work all together. The resulting loss of income and lack of medical insurance can cause serious financial distress.
If your child has a serious health condition or disability he or she may qualify for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits. As a parent or guardian, you can use these payments to provide and care for your child’s individual needs.
Supplemental Security Income
The Social Security Administration (SSA) provides disability benefits through two programs. The first program—SocialSecurity Disability Insurance (SSDI)—is commonly associated with disabled adults. This is because eligibility for SSDI is determined by the amount of taxes an individual has paid into the system. For obvious reasons, children don’t typically qualify for this type of assistance.
The second disability benefit program is called Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSI offers financial assistance to disabled and elderly individuals who have very little income.This program does not have age or work-related requirements in order to qualify. Instead, applicants cannot exceed certain financial limits set forth by the SSA.
In the case of a child, a portion of the parent or guardian’s finances will be taken into consideration. This is called “deeming”. The SSA uses deeming when a child is under the age of 18, is unmarried, and lives at home with his or her parents—who aren’t SSI recipients. The SSA will no longer deem the parents’ income if one or more of these factors changes.
Parents’ earned income, unearned income, and financial resources will all be deemed. If the child lives with a step-parent or adoptive parent, their income will count as well. Listed below are the sources of income that are not included in the deeming process:
· Welfare or Public Income Maintenance (Including Temporary Assistance to Needy Families and VA Pension for veterans.
· Foster care payments
· Food Stamps
· Disaster assistance
· Tax refunds on real property
· Home grown produce (used for personal consumption)
In addition to the previously mentioned types of income, the SSA will also make allocations for living expenses. In 2013, the allocation for a non-disabled child who does not earn any income is $356 per month. This means that for each ineligible child that lives in the same household, the SSA will deduct $356 from a parent’s deemed income.
The SSA also includes a parental living allowance. The amount for one parent is $710 per month. The amount for two parents is $1,066 per month. This allowance will also be subtracted from the amount of income deemed to a disabled child. It is important to note that this amount will not be subtracted for parents who already receive public assistance.
Once your child turns 18, deeming will stop and his or her own income will be used to determine eligibility for SSI.
Definition of Disability
In addition to meeting the technical and financial requirements mentioned above, your child must also meet the SSA’s definition of disability to qualify for SSD benefits. This includes meeting the following criteria:
· Your child cannot be employed at any job that is considered to be substantial work.
· Your child has a mental or physical condition that significantly limits his or her ability to function and complete typical daily activities.
· Your child’s condition has lasted—or is expected to last—at least one year or otherwise result in death.
Blue Book and Compassionate Allowance Listings
While the SSA requires that children meet their basic definition of disability, they also require that your child’s condition match an impairment listing within the blue book. The blue book is the SSA’s official manual of disabling conditions and symptoms. It is important to remember that the SSA has separate listings for children and adults. Access specific listings and medical criteria, here: http://www.ssa.gov/disability/professionals/bluebook/ChildhoodListings.htm
The SSA recognizes that, due to the severity of some conditions, applicants cannot be expected to wait the standard processing times to receive disability benefits. For this reason, they began the Compassionate Allowances (CAL) program. The CAL program allows individuals with severely debilitating or terminal illnesses to qualify for benefits in as little as ten days. Please note that you do not have to fill out additional paperwork to qualify for CAL processing. The SSA will evaluate your child’s claim to determine whether or not he or she qualifies and will expedite your claim accordingly. You can access a list of CAL conditions, here: http://www.disability-benefits-help.org/compassionate-allowances.
Social Security Disability Application Process
The SSD application process is slightly different for a children and adults. As the parent or guardian, you will be required to complete two forms as part of the initial application. These forms include the “Application for Supplemental Security Income” and the “Child Disability Report”. Currently, only the Child Disability Report can be completed online. You will have to schedule an appointment with your local Social Security office to complete the SSI application.
Before beginning the application process, it is vital that you collect the necessary medical records and documentation. The SSA will evaluate this documentation to determine the severity of your child’s condition. Medical documentation should include records of your child’s diagnosis, lab results, summaries of treatments, and any other relevant medical evidence. You should also include official statements from teachers, coaches, and physicians that interact with your child on a daily basis and can attest to his or her limitations. You should also have access tofinancial statements when you begin the application procedures.
It is important that you understand that the application for SSD benefits will not be easy. The SSA processes many new applications each day and unfortunately rejects a good amount of them. It is important that you are persistent—particularly if your child’s initial application is denied. You have the right to appeal this decision.
Once you are awarded benefits you will be able to focus on the well-being of your child rather than your own financial distress.
For more information about SSD benefits, visit Social Security Disability Help or contact Molly Clarke at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please also take a look at the Social Security Disability Help website, which is an amazing resource. Be sure to bookmark it for the future even if your child is not currently eligible for Social Security disability benefits. When the time comes for you to apply on your child's behalf, you'll want this information handy!