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Kinship Navigator - Social Security

How does a child become eligible for Social Security Benefits?

Child eligibility through parents' Social Security
A child is entitled to child's insurance benefits on the Social Security record of a parent if the following conditions are met:

  • An application for child 's insurance benefits is filed;
  • The child is (or was) dependent upon the parent;
  • The child is not married;
  • The child meets any of the following conditions:
  • Is under age 18;
  • Is age 18-19 and a full-time elementary or secondary school student; or,
  • Is age 18 or older and under a disability (which must have begun before age 22); and,
  • The parent meets any of the following conditions:
  • Is entitled to disability insurance benefits;
  • Is entitled to retirement insurance benefits; or,
  • Died and was either fully or currently insured at the time of death.
Child eligibility through grandparent or step-grandparent
First, a child can receive benefits based upon the grandparent's or step-grandparent's eligibility if the grandparent or step-grandparent is not yet receiving and all of the following conditions are met:

  • Child must live with grandparent at least six months before the grandparent is eligible for benefits and be a dependent of the grandparents;
  • Grandparent must be the caregiver;
  • Grandparent must be eligible for social security benefits; and,
  • Parents must be deceased or disabled.Second, a child can receive benefits based on the grandparent's or step-grandparent's eligibility if the grandparent or step-grandparent, adopts the child.

The child 's insurance benefit payments from a parent or a grandparent end when:

  • The child dies;
  • The child reaches age 18 and is neither disabled nor a full-time student;
  • If your child is 18 and a student at an elementary or secondary school, the benefits will end at graduation or two months after their 19th birthday;
  • If your child is 18 and disabled, benefits continue but the disability must have begun before age 22;
  • The child marries with some exceptions; or,
  • The child's parent, grandparent or step-grandparent is no longer entitled to disability benefits, unless the entitlement ended because the parent, grandparent
    or step-grandparent became entitled to retirement benefits or died.
Eligibility as a disabled child of a low income family
Supplemental Security Income or SSI is the most common way that children with a disability receive benefits from Social Security. A child younger than age 18 can qualify if they meet Social Security's definition of disability for children, and if his or her income and resources fall within the eligibility limits. It is a two part test.

First, in order be considered disabled and receive SSI a child must meet the following requirements:

  • The child may be working but cannot be earning over a certain amount. This amount depends on the disability and the amount changes every year and can be found at If the child is working and earning that much money, they will find that your child is not disabled;
  • The child must have a physical or mental condition, or a combination of conditions, that results in "marked and severe functional limitations." This means that the condition(s) must very seriously limit your child's activities;
  • The child's condition(s) must have lasted, or be expected to last, at least 12 months; or must be expected to result in death; and,
  • The child must be a citizen or a legal permanent resident.

Second, the child 's income and resources must fall within the eligibility limits based on:

  • You must apply for any other benefits for which the child may be eligible such as veterans' compensation and pensions, workers' compensation payments, other Social Security benefits and unemployment insurance benefits, etc.
  • Social Security considers a child's income and resources in determining benefits. It also considers the income and resources of family members living in the child's household, under its "deeming rules."

If a child's income and resources, or the income and resources of family members living in the child's household, are more than the amount allowed, Social Security will deny the child's application for SSI payments. However, your home, your household goods, a car, essential business or trade property, life insurance, disaster relief assistance, housing assistance, tax refunds, gifts to children with life threatening conditions, and children's college savings and other categories are all excluded from any resource calculations. Other resources may have to be agreed to be disposed of within certain time limits in order to qualify for benefits.

SSI disability reviews after approval:

  • Reviews for Children under age 18

    Once a child starts receiving SSI, the law requires that Social Security review the child 's medical condition from time to time to verify that the child is still disabled. This review must be done at least every three years for children younger than age 18 whose conditions are expected to improve; and by age 1 for babies whoare getting SSI payments because of their low birth weight, unless they determine their medical condition is not expected to improve by their first birthday and they schedule the review for a later date.

    Social Security will perform a disability review even if a child's condition is not expected to imp rove. When they do a review, they will need to see evidence that the child is and has been receiving treatment that is considered medically necessary for your child 's medical condition.
  • Reviews for Children age 18 and older

    For disability purposes in the SSI program, a child becomes an adult at age 18, requiring different medical and non­ medical rules when deciding if an adult can get SSI disability payments. For example, Social Security does not count the income and resources of family members when deciding whether an adult meets the financial limits for SSI. They count only the adult's income and resources.

    If a child is already receiving SSI pa yments, Social Security must review the child's medical condition when the child turns age 18. They usually do this review during the one-year period that begins on the child's 18th birthday. They will use the adult disability rules to decide whether your 18-year-old is disabled. The adult disability rules are very different from the standards for children.

    If the child was not eligible for SSI before his or her 18th birthday because the parents, grandparents or other caregivers had too much income or resources. they may become eligible for SSI at age 18.

How do I apply for Social Security Benefits?

You can apply for SSI payments or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits for your child by calling Social Security toll-free at 1-800- 772-1213 or by visiting your local Social Security office or on line at No matter which way you apply for a child in your kinship care, you will have to make an appointment at the Social Security office. Social Security will help you determine whether or not you should apply for SSI or SSDI.

What do I need to bring with me?

If you are applying for SSI payments for the child, you should have his or her Social Security number and birth certificate with you. If you are applying for SSDI benefits for the child based on your own earnings record, please have your own Social Security number with you, or the Social Security number of the retired, disabled, or deceased parent on whose record the SSDI claim is being filed, in addition to the child's Social Security number and birth certificate. If you are applying because of the death of a parent, you may need a death certificate. You will also need to bring any documentation showing that the child is in your custody.
Medical and Educational Information
It is helpful if you tell Social Security as much as possible about the child's medical condition. Make a list of all the child's doctors and hospitals. the dates the child's appointments and hospital admissions and medicines the child takes. Bring any medical records you have.

You don't need to request information from the child's doctors. Social Security will contact them directly for reports or information that is needed to make a decision about your child's disability.

However, if you have any medical records, reports or information, you should bring them with you.

Social Security also will ask you to describe how the child's disability affects his or her ability to perform daily activities. In addition, they will ask for the names of teachers, special education or intervention providers, day care providers, and family members who can provide information about how the child functions. If you have school records, you should bring them to the interview.
Income Information
If your child is younger than age 18 and applying for SSI, you must provide records that show your income and resources, as well as those of the child.

What is a representative payee?

Generally, if a beneficiary is under age 18, Social Security will pay benefits to a representative payee.

Before selecting a representative payee, Social Security will perform a background investigation, usually including a face-to-face interview. In selecting a payee Social Security tries to select the person, agency, organization or institution that will best serve the interest of the beneficiary. In making their selection they consider:

  • The relationship of the person to the beneficiary;
  • The amount of interest that the person shows in the beneficiary;
  • Any legal authority the person, agency, organization or institution has to act on behalf of the beneficiary including whether or not the person has custody;
  • Whether the potential payee has custody of the beneficiary; and,
  • Whether the potential payee is in a position to know of and look after the needs of the beneficiary.


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