Perkins School for the Blind Transition Center

Accessing and Understanding Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income Benefits

One of the great mysteries in American governmental programs, second only to Medicare/Medicaid, is SSDI and SSI. While they are wonderful programs, keep in mind Congress implemented them – hence the confusing names and acronyms. I leave it to others to ponder if the confusion was on purpose or just accidental.


Social Security Disability Insurance


Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is part of the Social Security Program. It is a social insurance program dating back to 1937. Funded by the beloved FICA tax, which all non-Federal workers have to pay. It is in effect a Social Insurance program. By paying income tax, workers contribute to it. If an individual (not the parents) has paid enough FICA tax through the years, and then becomes permanently disabled, he/she can receive SSDI benefits. The Social Security Administration also provides Retirement, Survivor and Medicare (not Medicaid) benefits.

The important point to make is that Supplemental Security Income is for people who have not paid social security taxes through work. Social Security Disability is for people who have worked, paid taxes and collected enough credits to retire early due to becoming disabled.

If a parent is receiving Social Security Disability or Social Security Retirement benefits, then his/her child (under the age of 18) can also receive benefits, whether or not he/she has a disability. After age 18, the child can then apply as a disabled adult (if he/she has a qualifying disability) on the parent’s record, if a parent is receiving a Social Security Benefit.


Supplemental Security Income


Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is provided by the Federal Government. This is a federal assistance program for people who are disabled, blind or aged 65 or older who are US citizens or legal residents (green card holders only) who have little or no income or resources. Children under the age of 18 who have autism spectrum disorders, cerebral palsy, or other developmental disabilities are generally eligible for SSI benefits if their parent’s income and asset levels fall within the federal poverty guidelines.

Here, the issue is not the child’s disability, but the parental income. Parental income and resources (assets) are counted against the children in deciding their eligibility. Your assets and income are considered your child’s income and assets.

Once your son or daughter reaches age 18, the rules change. Your children are considered adults under the program and your income and resources no longer count against them. Now, only their income and resources count. If they have no income and no resources then they are eligible to apply and the only issue is the disability issue. In this case the question becomes, “Does the condition they have meet the Federal standards for Disability?”

If your son or daughter is approved for SSI, he or she will be entitled to a monthly payment of $472.00. Perhaps more importantly, Community/Managed Care Medicaid (not Medicare) coverage will be automatic. There will be no need for you to contact the county or go to any office. The Medicaid benefit card will be mailed out as soon as the SSI system notifies the Department of Social Services. Lastly, your child will receive a food stamp benefits card. The amount, I believe, is for $25.00. So it is worth the time and effort to apply regardless of the bureaucratic process you have to go through (see below).


The Application Process


Now that you know all about the benefits, you probably want to know how to apply for SSI. You can begin with SSA’s toll free number (1-800-772-1213) where you will receive some information from an agent over the phone. Or, you can go to the web site where you will find a lot of information that has been designed to be easy to understand. You will also find the many forms needed for the application process here. You can get an idea if you will qualify for SSI benefits by filling out the Benefits Eligibility Screening Tool (B.E.S.T.) on the web at

The basic SSI application consists of 21 pages and 58 questions regarding family composition, income for your adult child, resources, living arrangements and other issues. The Disability Report addresses the applicant’s disabling condition. It consists of 9 pages. It asks for information about the disability, names of treating sources, medications, tests and asks how the condition affects the applicant’s ability to work. There are also other forms involving the release of medical information, private health insurance and who will be payee for the applicant if he/she is incapable of managing money. You can request these forms and try to complete them yourself, or contact your local Social Services Office to see a representative who will assist you. This can be done in person or by phone. They do make appointments but they often need to be made two or three weeks in advance. Or, you can just go in and wait to see someone. Either way be prepared to be at the office a while – set aside at least half a day, and bring a book and sustenance.

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