Do Children Qualify for Benefits?

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits are available for children.  This section will explain how the Social Security Administration decides if a child is disabled enough to get SSI benefits.

In addition to the child's medical qualifications, a child's family must have a low amount of income and resources in order for a child to receive SSI.


How Are Children Different From Adults?
When the Social Security Administration decides if adults are disabled, it looks to see if the adult can do any work.  That standard does not apply to children under 18.  Instead, the Social Security Administration follows a three-step process:

     Step 1
First, SSA looks to see if the child is earning money.  Just as with adults, if a child is making too much money a month, they will not normally be found to be disabled.

     Step 2
Second, SSA looks to make sure that the child has a "severe" problem.  A severe problem is an impairment that has more than a small effect on a child's life.  For instance, allergies are usually not a severe impairment.

     Step 3
Third, SSA evaluates the child's impairments to see if they meet or medically equal a listing, or are functionally equivalent to the listings of impairments.


How Do You Meet a Listing?
SSA has a list of problems that children can have, ranging from heart problems to psychiatric problems.  For each problem there are medical findings that must be in the evidence for the child to meet that listing.


How Do You Medically Equal a Listing?
If a child has a medical impairment that is similar to a listed impairment, they might medically equal a listing.  That means SSA finds a problem the child has is just as severe as a listed problem.


How Do You Functionally Equal a Listing?
A child's limitations are functionally equivalent to the listings if his or her problems cause functional limitations as bad as the listings.  SSA has special rules for functional equivalence.


What is Functional Equivalence?
To determine if a child's impairments are functionally equivalent to the listings, SSA looks at the child's levels of functioning in six areas:

     1) Acquiring and Using Information
This is the child's ability to acquire and learn information and how well that child uses the information that has been learned.

     2) Attending and Completing Tasks
This is how well a child is able to focus, maintain attention, finish tasks, and perform at a good pace.

     3) Interacting and Relating to Others
This is how well a child initiates and sustains emotional connections with others, uses language, cooperates, obeys rules, responds to criticism, and respects and takes care of the possessions of others.

     4) Moving About and Manipulating Objects
This is how well a child moves his or her body from one place to another and how a child moves and manipulates things.  This covers both gross and fine motor skills.

     5) Caring for Self
This is how well a child maintains a healthy emotional and physical state, including how well a child gets his or her physical and emotional wants and needs met in appropriate ways, how a child copes with stress and changes in his or her environment, and whether a child takes care of his or her own health, possessions, and living area.

     6) Health and Physical Well Being
The cumulative physical effects of physical and mental impairments and their associated treatments or therapies, including medication side-effects, weakness, shortness of breath, pain or fatigue.

SSA must decide whether the child has a "marked" or "extreme" limitation in any of these areas.  In order to be qualified for SSI, a child must have a marked limitation in 2 of the above areas or an extreme limitation in 1 of the areas.

To determine whether a child has a marked or extreme limitation, a child's functioning is considered in comparison with children of the same age who do not have impairments - i.e., in comparison with children who are healthy.