Supplemental Security Income Disability Program for Children

Cooking lesson for a disabled boy
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Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a Federal program for eligible children with disabilities that can help families in need pay for some of the expenses associated with caring for their disabled child. In addition to helping pay for the child's share of food and other living expenses, SSI might help pay for specialized care, special diets, and adaptive equipment, etc.

Qualifying for the SSI Disability Program for Children

To qualify for the SSI Disability Program, a child must have "marked and severe functional limitations" that are caused by either a physical condition, mental condition, or a combination of conditions for at least 12 months and the child and family members living with the child must meet strict financial eligibility requirements for their income and other resources.

Supplemental Security Income Disability Program for Children

Although the Social Security Disability Insurance Program was planned in the 1930's and early 1940's, it was not formally enacted into a law until 1956. Unlike the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Program, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is for workers with a disability that prevents them from working.

The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Program wasn't created until much later, in 1972, with the first payments being made in 1974. It replaced several other federal and state programs and grants. Disabled dependent children could get benefits as early as 1956, but only if their parent had retired already or had died.

The SSI program was changed in 1996 when more restrictive eligibility criteria was added to the program.

SSI Disability Program

It is estimated that 1.24 million children, fewer than 10% of children with disabilities actually receive SSI, which on average, provides families with about $593 per month to help pay for some "out-of-pocket disability-related costs." SSI payments from the federal program are supplemented with state funds in some states.

In addition, in many states, getting SSI qualifies a child for Medicaid health care benefits and can help ensure that they can get referrals to state Title V Maternal and Child Health Services Block Grant Programs.

Examples of conditions that might qualify a child for the SSI Disability Program include:

  • Premature and low birth weight babies;
  • symptomatic HIV infection;
  • stroke;
  • total blindness;
  • total deafness;
  • terminal cancer or other terminal illness with a life expectancy of 6 months or less;
  • cerebral palsy;
  • Down syndrome;
  • muscular dystrophy;
  • mental impairments, including organic mental disorders, psychotic disorders, mood disorders, mental retardation, anxiety disorders, autism, ADHD, etc.;

If you think that your child has a condition that would meet the SSI disability rules, including that it causes a "marked and severe functional impairment," and your family's income and resources fall within the eligibility limits, then you should apply for disability benefits.

In addition to applying online, you can call the toll-free number (1-800-772-1213) for the Social Security office to make an appointment with your local Social Security office.

What will your pediatrician do? According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, when applying for SSI, the role of your pediatrician "is to provide accurate, timely, impartial information, not to decide whether an individual is disabled."

The AAP, as a member of the SSI Coalition for Children and Families, advocates for protecting the SSI program for children with severe disabilities and assuring that it is not cut in Congressional budget battles.


American Academy of Pediatrics. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for Children and Youth With Disabilities. Pediatrics Vol. 124 No. 6 December 1, 2009 pp. 1702-1708

Berkowitz, Edward D. Disability Policy & History.

Disability Evaluation Under Social Security. Listing of Impairments - Childhood Listings (Part B).

Groch-Begley, Hannah. This American Life Features Error-Riddled Story On Disability And Children. Media Matters for America. Accessed March 2013.

Perrin, James M. MD. Cutting SSI would only hurt children USA Today. October 26, 2011.

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