The Basics of Applying for SSI Disability Benefits for Your Child

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is an important government benefit for children with special needs. However, dealing with the government can be confusing, time-consuming, and frustrating. Before beginning the application process, you should have a solid understanding of the SSI process.

Who Is Eligible for SSI Benefits?

Children can qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits starting from the day they are born through age 18. The child must be disabled, as defined by Social Security (essentially be unable to perform “Substantial Gainful Activity” which is defined as the ability to work and earn gross work earnings of $1260 as of 2020), and have little or no source of income or resources.

The government will consider family household income and resources along with other personal information when making this determination.  Therefore, most children with disabilities are not eligible to apply until the first day of the month after their 18th birthday when family income and assets no longer count (however there is a three year look-back period at assets in the child’s name such as a custodial account or savings bond).

Does SSI Provide Medical Benefits?

No, SSI is not a medical assistance program. Instead, look to Medicaid which is a health care program for people with low incomes and limited resources. Most children who qualify for SSI benefits also qualify for Medicaid. However, in some situations, a child who does not qualify for SSI, may still qualify for Medicaid.

Alternatively, children who do not receive SSI may be able to get health insurance from their State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). SCHIP provides health insurance benefits for children in families with incomes greater than Medicaid’s restrictions, but who cannot afford private health insurance. For more information about SCHIP health care programs in Illinois, go to this page or call 1-800-843-6154.

Can My Child Work and Earn Income Without Losing SSI Benefits?

Sometimes children who are receiving SSI would like to work and earn some income. It is important to understand whether earning an income will affect the child’s benefits. For SSI purposes,  the child’s income is considered when setting the amount of their SSI payment and will cause a reduction in most cases. However, while the child is still a full-time student, it is very unlikely that their work earnings will impact the amount of the SSI payment at all.

Also, the cost of items and services the child might need to work may be subtracted from the earnings when setting the SSI payment. These are referred to as Impairment–Related Work Expenses (IRWE). The Social Security Administration offers programs that help young people who receive SSI disability benefits and also want to work. You can find more information about the Ticket to Work programs here.

Please note that in almost all cases earning over substantial gainful activity at any time (currently $1260 per month in 2020) may have drastic consequences including cutting off the child’s future eligibility for government benefits that could in many cases be worth $30,000 a year in today’s dollars, or much more than that figure in some cases.

Let’s Cut Through the Confusion Together

We understand that dealing with the government to obtain benefits for your special needs child can be exhausting. Once we understand your unique circumstances, we can explain how to apply for the benefits your child deserves.

Rubin Law is the only law firm in Illinois exclusively limited to providing compassionate special needs legal and future planning to guide our fellow Illinois families of children and adults with intellectual disabilities, developmental disabilities, or mental illness down the road to peace of mind. For more information, email us at or call 866-TO-RUBIN.