Tag Archives: autism

Does my income affect my child’s ability to qualify for Social Security Benefits?

How much income can parents have before their children no longer qualify for Supplemental Security Income benefits?

Disabled children can qualify for benefits under the Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) program, which is administered by the Social Security Administration, depending: (1) on the nature of their disabilities; (2) on how much income they have (if any); and (3) on their available resources. Children’s “available resources” include the income (and assets) of their parents and guardians. Therefore, many parents and guardians of disabled children wonder how much income they can have before their children no longer qualify for SSI benefits.

The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) defines a child as someone who is not married; is not head of a household; and is under age 18, or is under age 22 and regularly attending school. This discussion only applies to SSI benefits for disabled children, as the SSA defines the terms “disabled” and “children.”

1. Nature of disability. According to the definition established by the applicable laws and regulations, a child is “disabled” if the child “has a medically determinable physical or mental impairment, which results in marked and severe functional limitations, and which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” In other words, a child is disabled for purposes of SSI benefits if the child has a very serious medical condition that will last (or has lasted) for at least one year. For example, a child who suffers from cystic fibrosis could qualify for SSI benefits. A child with a minor broken leg, but who did not otherwise have a serious medical condition, would probably not qualify.

2. Child’s income (if any). In terms of a child’s income, a child may not earn more than $1,000.00 per month from employment and still qualify to receive SSI benefits (in 2011; the limit on a child’s total monthly income changes every year). On the other hand, a child who is unemployed, or who is employed but earns less than $1,000.00 per month (in 2011), would meet the income limit.

3. Income and resources (i.e. assets) of parents or guardians. The determination of a child’s eligibility to receive SSI benefits also takes into account

Income, in this context, comes in two varieties: “earned income” and “unearned income.” Earned income consists of “wages from employment, net earnings from self-employment, certain royalties and honoraria, and sheltered workshop payments.” Unearned income consists of money received from other sources, “such as Social Security benefits, pensions, state disability payments, unemployment benefits, interest income, and cash from friends and relatives.” Some income is exempt and does not count toward the applicable limits. The following chart illustrates the income limits currently applicable in many (but not all) circumstances.

Number of Ineligible Children in Household

All Income is Earned

All Income is Unearned

One Parent in Household

Two Parents in Household

One Parent in Household

Two Parents in Household

0

$2,821

$3,495

$1,388

$1,725

1

$3,158

$3,832

$1,725

$2,062

2

$3,495

$4,169

$2,062

$2,399

3

$3,832

$4,506

$2,399

$2,736

4

$4,169

$4,843

$2,736

$3,073

5

$4,506

$5,180

$3,073

$3,410

6

$4,843

%5,517

$3,410

$3,747

By “resources,” the SSA essentially means property. For instance, resources include bank accounts, cash, life insurance, real estate, stocks, U.S. savings bonds, vehicles and other property belonging to a child’s parents or guardians that could be exchanged for cash and used for food or shelter. Some resources, such as a home, household goods and personal effects, and money in pension funds, are exempt and do not count toward the applicable limits. Currently, the applicable resource limit (for non-exempt resources) is $2,000 for a single parent or guardian, and $3,000.00 for a couple.

To summarize: A disabled child’s eligibility for SSI benefits depends upon the nature of the child’s disability, the amount of income that the child earns (if any), and the income and resources available to the child—including resources available through parents and guardians. Regarding the resources of parents and guardians, the limits vary from case to case depending on the circumstances. The income limits listed in the foregoing chart, and the resource limits discussed above, might or might not apply in a specific situation because of the many rules and regulations, as well as exemptions, that govern SSI eligibility for disabled children. If you are the parent or guardian of a disabled child and would like to learn more about SSI eligibility, then talk with a lawyer with experience dealing with Social Security issues.

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My child has autism, can she draw social security disabled child benefits?

Can a child with autism receive Social Security disability benefits?

The parents of an autistic child recently asked me whether their child could be eligible to receive Social Security disability benefits. Generally, autism qualifies as a disability for Social Security purposes. Whether a specific child qualifies, however, depends upon the severity of the child’s condition.

The Social Security Administration’s definition of the term “disability,” for children under age 18, is “a medically determinable physical or mental impairment or combination of impairments that causes marked and severe functional limitations, and that can be expected to cause death or that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” Autism, or “Autistic Disorder” as it is called by the Social Security Administration (“SSA”), appears on the SSA’s Listing of Impairments. As the SSA puts it, the Listing of Impairments “describes, for each major body system, impairments considered severe enough” to satisfy the SSA’s definition of the term “disability.”

Listing 112.10 is “Autistic Disorder and Other Pervasive Developmental Disorders,” which are described as “[c]haracterized by qualitative deficits in the development of reciprocal social interaction, in the development of verbal and nonverbal communication skills, and in imaginative activity.” According to this entry in the Listing of Impairments, the “required level of severity” for an autistic child to qualify for disability benefits is met when the child exhibits: (a) qualitative deficits in the development of reciprocal social interaction; (b) qualitative deficits in verbal and nonverbal communication and in imaginative activity; (c) a markedly restricted repertoire of activities and interests; and (d) for “older infants and toddlers (age 1 to attainment of age 3), resulting in at least one of the appropriate age-group criteria in paragraph B1” of Listing 112.02; “or, for children (age 3 to attainment of age 18), resulting in at least two of the appropriate age-group criteria in paragraph B2 of” Listing 112.02.

The SSA applies a five-step disability analysis to make the determination of whether someone is officially disabled. Although autism appears on the Listing of Impairments, the SSA will still require that documentation be submitted as part of an application for disability benefits. Additionally, the SSA may require that an applicant receive an independent medical examination.

Parents of autistic children can encounter problems applying for Social Security disability benefits on behalf of their children, even though autism appears on the Listing of Impairments. In some cases, the SSA denies such applications. If you are the parent or guardian of an autistic child and have questions, or if the SSA has denied an application for benefits on behalf of your child, then you should talk with an attorney who focuses on Social Security disability issues.  Contact the Law Offices of John T. Nicholson today to schedule free consultation.

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