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June 2012 CBA REPORT
feature article
By Stephen H. Olden
ost lawyers know that the
Social Security Administration
(SSA) oversees various Social
Security retirement and disability insur-
ance benefit programs. Through some of
these, children may become eligible to
receive benefits during their childhood
based on the disability, retirement, or
death of their parent or guardian. These
benefits accrue to children based simply
on their status as a child of the qualifying
adult. The SSA also administers another
benefit program known as Supplemental
Security Income (SSI).
These benefits
are provided to lower-income disabled
or elderly adults and to lower-income
disabled children. Whereas eligibility for
Social Security benefits is premised on a
person’s work history, eligibility for SSI
benefits is based on a person’s financial
need. One need not have worked any
certain number of quarters or “paid into
Social Security” in order to qualify for
SSI. Instead, the claimant must show that
the family’s income and resources fall
below a set amount. If the claimant’s in-
come and resources are not so high as to
be disqualifying, SSA will then proceed
to determine if the SSI claimant is elderly
or disabled.
SSI Disability Benefits for Children:
What Every Lawyer Should Know
This article focuses on SSI dis-
ability benefits for children and what
busy lawyers coming into contact with
children or their families should know
in order to identify potential SSI-eligible
children. Why is this important? Because
the payoff for a qualifying disabled child
can be significant. He or she will receive
a monthly cash benefit, which in 2012
can be up to $698, and, in most states
(including Ohio), also will be able to
qualify for Medicaid health care cover-
age. For lower-income families, an extra
$8,000 per year goes a long way. In some
cases, the medical coverage is even more
important, with out-of-reach surgical
procedures, mental health counseling, or
expensive medications finally becoming
available to the child. With that, im-
provements in school work, social skills,
and self-care often follow — something
we all want for any child.
The cash benefits will be paid to a
representative payee (typically a parent
or guardian) and will continue until the
child turns 18 (19 if still in high school)
or is no longer disabled. At 18, child
benefits will end and SSA will review the
case to determine whether SSI benefits
may continue under the adult disability
standards. In the interim, SSA usually
will review the case every few years to
determine that the medical and/or men-
tal condition(s) still exist and still are so
severe as to be disabling.
Children Considered Disabled for
SSI Purposes
Suppose you represent a child and his
family who are appealing a school’s deni-
al of services for an Individual Education
Plan (IEP). Or you represent a young
car accident victim with a closed head
injury. Or maybe you are a guardian
for a young girl in termination of
parental rights proceedings. Perhaps
you have been retained to represent a
child who was arrested and charged with
criminal activity. Maybe you are the
prosecutor in that case. Or suppose you
represent a parent in a divorce proceed-
ing or personal injury case and learn that
your client has a disabled child. As you
start to develop the big picture around
your young client, charged party, or
the family’s child, you might sense that
the child has physical and/or mental/
emotional impairments. If so, you could
have an opportunity to help this child
in an important way. All you need do is
roughly assess — as a layperson — the
child’s medical or mental condition and
financial situation to see if an SSI disabil-
ity application might be warranted.
Examples of childhood impairments
could be mental retardation, severe
asthma, bi-polar disorder, oppositional
defiant disorder, or loss of a limb. A
child may be disabled by a single impair-
ment alone, as with cerebral palsy, or by
Lawyers in any field of practice can identify those
who might qualify for benefits and help them get
started in the application process or steer them to
a local Social Security office for help.
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