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How to protect a child’s SSI benefits into adulthood

MMany parents do not realize that their children may be at risk for losing Supplemental Security Income benefits upon turning 18. It is important that attorneys advise their clients of this fact so as to avoid a termination of SSI benefits and in some cases Medicaid health benefits as well.

SSI is a federal program that helps adults and children with disabilities, and very low incomes and resources, pay for food and shelter. In 2014, the maximum federal SSI benefit that a disabled adult or child can receive is $721 a month. In addition, in most states, an adult or child who receives SSI benefits also qualifies for free Medicaid health benefits, which in many cases is more valuable than SSI’s financial benefit itself. SSI benefits received by a child will terminate when the child turns eighteen years old unless the child is approved for adult benefits.

The Social Security Administration uses different criteria in assessing children and adults. Therefore there are several reasons for a disabled child to not receive SSI benefits when he or she turns 18. As is described below, SSA applies different disability standards or”listings,” uses a different definition of disability and treats income and resources differently for children and adults.

Different Disability Standard (“Listings”)

SSA uses a list of impairments considered disabling. There is a separate list for adults and for children. The listings for children are used so that the particular disease process in childhood is taken into consideration. Many conditions that are on SSA’s list of child impairments are not on SSA’s list of adult impairments. For example “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder” is a listed impairment for children and not for adults. Even if a condition is on both lists the criteria to meet or equal the listing may change so that an individual who met or equaled a listed child impairment would not meet or equal a listed adult impairment.

Definition of Disability

To qualify for adult SSI a person seeking benefits must have a physical or mental impairment that can be expected to last for one year, or more or result in death, and, in most cases, make them unable to do any work. To qualify for child SSI a child must have a physical or mental impairment that can be expected to last for a year or more, or result in death, and that results in marked and severe functional limitations. In my experience proving that an individual is unable to do any work is significantly more difficult.

Income and Resource Requirements

Once adult claimants have shown that they are disabled, they must also prove that they have less than $2,000 in their name. If a claimant can use or liquidate an asset to pay for food or shelter, the asset will probably count as a “resource” against this limit. A resource would include any funds held in the claimant’s bank accounts, retirement accounts, or in cash.

To financially qualify for SSI for a child, his or her parent’s income and resources are used to determine their child’s financial eligibility for SSI benefits. This is called “deeming.” However, once a child turns 18, the child’s own income and resources are the sole basis for meeting financial eligibility.

Because of this, in many cases, a child who did not previously qualify for SSI benefits due to his or her parent’s income and resources being too high may now qualify based on his or her own income and resources. Therefore attorneys should advise their clients with disabled children over the age of 18, who are not receiving SSI benefits, to apply.

Here are some tips of what you can advise your clients to do to help their children remain on SSI benefits after their child turns 18.

  • Set-up a review

As a child approaches his or her 18th birthday; your clients should contact Social Security to set-up a review of their child’s disability. Generally, the review period will begin on the child’s 18th birthday. The review is necessary to determine if the child’s disability is eligible for adult SSI benefits.

  • Your clients should work with their doctor

If a client’s disabled child has not been regularly seeing a medical specialist for his or her condition, then your clients should resume regular appointments as soon as possible. During the review Social Security will ask for the treating doctor’s assessment of their child’s disability (an assessment the doctor will not be able to accurately give if he or she has not seen the child in years.) This assessment can be a critical factor in your client’s child receiving adult SSI benefits.

  • Work with an experienced attorney

If you or your clients have questions about maintaining a child’s SSI benefits once they reach adulthood, contact an attorney who is experienced in handling Social Security Disability and SSI cases.

If your client does not take timely action to protect their child’s right to benefits, he or she may lose them upon their child’s eighteenth birthday. Therefore, as attorneys, it is critical that your clients be made aware of Social Security’s rules well before their child turns 18.

- By Sheri R. Abrams. Abrams is a partner in the law firm of Needham Mitnick & Pollack, PLC, in Falls Church.

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