Benefits Bootcamp: Overview of Public Benefits for Children with Disabilities

Many families raising children with disabilities seek government assistance to help cover the health care and living expenses associated with their child's disability. There are a variety of programs that can help, but it can be overwhelming to decide which avenues are best for your family. Our Public Benefits Specialist, Lisa Concoff Kronbeck, put together this high-level overview of the options available to families. Each section below links out to an article with more information on that particular benefit.

  • Regional Centers are a statewide network of local agencies tasked with serving children and adults with developmental disabilities as defined by California law. Clients are assigned to their local Regional Center by zip code. Each Regional Center operates independently, so services offered (as well as eligibility criteria for specific services) may vary slightly, but all Regional Centers are governed by the same set of statutes and regulations. Each Regional Center provides a list of the services it will fund in a document on their website, which is usually called “Service Standards” or “Purchase of Service Standards.”
  • Medi-Cal is California’s Medicaid program. Eligibility for Medi-Cal is usually based on household income. However, children who have developmental disabilities and are Regional Center clients may be eligible for a special waiver program that extends full Medi-Cal coverage to children with certain significant disabilities without regard to family income and resources. Medi-Cal will always be secondary coverage for children with private primary insurance, but it can help fill some of the funding gaps by covering coinsurance payments and other out-of-pocket expenses when your child sees Medi-Cal-contracted providers. Medi-Cal may also fund medical supplies (such as diapers and g-tube formula) and durable medical equipment.
  • In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) are personal care and related services that Medi-Cal may fund so that people with disabilities can remain safely in their homes. Children with disabilities may be eligible for IHSS to the extent that their disability-related care needs exceed those of a typically developing child of the same age. If a parent is unable to work full-time due to their child’s extensive disability-related needs, the parent may be eligible to be paid as an IHSS provider.
  • The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers cash benefits for some children with disabilities.
    • If a child’s parent or legal guardian is receiving Social Security retirement or disability benefits, or if the parent or guardian has passed away and has sufficient work history under SSA rules, all children in the home may be eligible for dependent or survivor benefits. For children with disabilities, that benefit may continue into adulthood if the person with a disability remains eligible. Children with disabilities who receive long-term dependent or survivor benefits are eligible for Medicare after 24 months of receiving benefits.
    • Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a need-based cash benefit for children and adults with disabilities who have very low household income and/or insufficient work history to qualify for retirement or disability insurance benefits. SSI may also be available to children who reside in institutions (e.g. a child undergoing a months-long hospitalization). A person who receives SSI is automatically eligible for Medi-Cal. 
  • California Children’s Services funds services for children with certain significant medical disabilities. Eligibility is diagnosis-specific and income-based. CCS may be an avenue of assistance for children with significant medical needs who are not Regional Center clients.

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