Social Security Administration (SSA)/Supplemental Security Income (SSI) 101

The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers cash benefits for some children with disabilities. (You can learn more about these benefits in SSA’s guide to services for children with disabilities.)

  • If you, your child’s other parent, or your child’s legal guardian receive Social Security retirement or disability benefits, then all of your children (whether or not they have a disability) may be eligible for dependent or survivor benefits.
  • If your child’s parent or guardian has passed away and they had sufficient work history under SSA rules, then all children (whether or not they have a disability) may be eligible for dependent or survivor benefits.
    • For your child with disabilities, this benefit may continue into their adulthood if they remain eligible due to their disability.
  • If your child with disabilities receives long-term dependent or survivor benefits, they are eligible for Medicare after 24 months of receiving these benefits.

What Is Supplemental Security Income (SSI?)

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a need-based cash benefit for children and adults with disabilities who have very low household income. 

  • Although SSI is administered by SSA, it is not dependent on prior work history credits, meaning that it might be available to people who don’t qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance or retirement benefits due to insufficient work history. 
  • A person who receives SSI is automatically eligible for full-scope Medi-Cal, meaning you’re not expected to pay for a share of provided services each month. 
  • Some other programs may be available to SSI recipients, including discounts on public utilities like electricity, gas, water, and phone service.

Who Is Eligible for SSI?


This is how children with disabilities qualify for SSI:

  • Children younger than age 18 will be considered to have an eligible disability if they have “a medically determinable physical or mental impairment or combination of impairments that causes marked and severe functional limitations.” (SSA)
  • The child’s disability needs to have lasted or be expected to last for at least 12 months, or is expected to shorten the child’s life span.
  • If your child receives SSI, they will likely be reevaluated for eligibility when they turn 18 to see if they still qualify under the more-restrictive adult criteria (we’ll share those details below). 
    • If your child has an IEP, then SSA should continue to apply the child criteria for SSI until your child graduates or otherwise exits the school system by age 21. (You will need to provide the SSA with a copy of the IEP to ensure benefits are given.)
  • SSI may also be available to children who reside in institutions (which includes a child undergoing a months-long hospitalization).

This is how adults with disabilities qualify for SSI: 

  • Adults need to be deemed unable to engage in “substantial gainful activity” (SGA) due to their physical or intellectual disability.
    • SGA refers to an income amount you’re expected to earn, and you’re eligible for SSI if you’re unable to participate in enough work to bring in that amount of money. 
    • The dollar amount for SGA slightly increases each year. (For 2019, SGA was $1,220 per month.)
  • This disability has to be expected to last for at least 12 months or is expected to shorten the individual’s life span.
  • If a child or adult with disabilities is receiving dependent or survivor benefits under a parent or guardian’s work history, they may still be eligible for a reduced SSI benefit if the dependent or survivor benefit falls below a certain threshold. 

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