In the United States, children with disabilities may be eligible for Social Security benefits through two primary disability programs: Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Both programs are administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA). 

  1. Supplemental Security Income (SSI): SSI is a needs-based program that provides financial assistance to individuals with limited income and resources who are either aged, blind, or disabled. Children under 18 who have a qualifying disability and whose families meet the income and asset requirements may be eligible for SSI benefits. When that child turns 18, or finishes school, he may continue to qualify for SSI benefits as long as he continues to meet eligibility requirements.

Children under 18 (or under 22 if a student):

  • The child must have a physical or mental condition, or combination of conditions that results in marked and/or severe functional limitations that have lasted or can be expected to last 12 months
  • Not be working and earning more than substantial gainful activity
  • Have limited income and resources, the resource and income of parents or guardians are also considered

Adult SSI

  • The child becomes eligible for adult SSI, when he turns 18 and if he continues to have a physical or mental condition, or combination of conditions that result in marked and/or severe functional limitations that have lasted or can be expected to last 12 months.
  • The condition prevents the adult child from working and earning more than substantial gainful activity
  • Has limited income and resources, which also considers the income and resources of a spouse, or family which may be providing food and shelter.

2. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): SSDI is an insurance program that provides financial assistance to individuals with disabilities who have paid into the Social Security system through taxes on their earnings. While SSDI is primarily for disabled workers, adult children with disabilities may be eligible for SSDI benefits as dependents of a parent who is receiving Social Security retirement or disability benefits, or of a parent who has died after accumulating enough work credits. Additionally, a disabled adult may have earned their own coverage while working under the limit of substantial gainful activity.

Obtaining SSDI on your own work credits. 

  • You must have earned enough work credits to have disability coverage
  • You must meet the definition of disability which is to have a physical or mental condition, or combination of conditions that results in marked and/or severe functional limitations that have lasted or can be expected to last 12 months
  • And that condition or combination of conditions, prevents you from working

Obtaining SSDI on parental work credits (also known as Disabled Adult Child Benefits)

  • You must have a parent who is retired, disabled, or has died
  • You must be older than 18 and have a qualifying disability that began prior to age 22
  • You cannot be married
  • You cannot exceed the earnings limit when you were working, also known as “substantial gainful activity”

Note that the definition of disability for SSDI is the same as for SSI, but there are no income or resource limits for the disabled adult child’s eligibility. SSDI benefits are calculated based on the parent’s Social Security earnings record.

It’s important to remember that eligibility criteria and benefit amounts may change over time, so it’s a good idea to consult the Social Security Administration’s website ( or contact your local SSA office for the most up-to-date information on these programs.

Benefits for a Parent with a Deceased Spouse

Mother’s or father’s benefits are a type of Social Security benefit available to surviving spouses or surviving divorced spouses who have dependent children. These benefits are designed to provide financial assistance to families after the death of a parent who had earned enough Social Security credits. The benefits help support the family while they care for the deceased worker’s minor or disabled children.

To be eligible for mother’s or father’s benefits, the surviving spouse or surviving divorced spouse must meet the following criteria:

  1. Be unmarried
  2. Be caring for the deceased worker’s child who is under the age of 16, or who is disabled and became disabled before the age of 22

  3. The child must be receiving Social Security benefits based on the deceased parent’s work record

Mother’s or father’s benefits typically amount to 75% of the deceased worker’s primary insurance amount (PIA), which is the amount the worker would have received if they had reached full retirement age. The actual benefit amount received by the surviving spouse may be affected by the family maximum benefit limit, which is determined by the deceased worker’s PIA and the number of family members receiving benefits.

It is important to note that mother’s or father’s benefits are different from widow’s or widower’s benefits, which are available to surviving spouses who are at least 60 years old (or 50 years old if disabled) and do not have dependent children. In some cases, surviving spouses may transition from mother’s or father’s benefits to widow’s or widower’s benefits once their children are no longer eligible for child’s benefits.

Parents may find it difficult to access the child benefit from the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program for several reasons, including:

  1. Lack of understanding of the eligibility criteria: Parents may not be aware of the eligibility criteria for the children’s benefit under SSDI, or they may not understand how to navigate the complex application process.
  2. Difficulty in proving disability: Proving a child’s disability can be challenging, especially if their condition is not well documented in their medical records or if they have a condition that is difficult to diagnose.
  3. Delays in processing claims: The SSDI program has a backlog of disability claims, which can result in long wait times for parents who are applying for benefits for their children. This can be frustrating and stressful for families who are struggling to make ends meet.
  4. Limited resources: The SSDI program has limited resources, which means that not all eligible children will receive benefits. This can be especially difficult for families who are struggling financially and rely on the benefits to provide for their children’s basic needs.

How can Georgia Advocate Partners help with your claim for child benefits?

  1. Expertise in the application process: An experienced attorney understands the ins and outs of the Social Security disability system, including the eligibility criteria, required documentation, and common pitfalls. They can help you prepare a complete and accurate application, ensuring that all necessary information and supporting documents are included.
  2. Developing a strong case: An attorney can help gather and present relevant medical evidence, work history, and other supporting documents to establish the severity of your disability and its impact on your ability to work. They can also help you obtain statements from your doctors or other medical professionals to support your claim.
  3. Representation during appeals: If your initial application is denied, an attorney can help you navigate the appeals process, which can be complicated and time-consuming. They will represent you at hearings, prepare legal arguments, and present your case before an administrative law judge.
  4. Knowledge of SSA regulations and policies: Social Security disability attorneys are familiar with the SSA’s rules, regulations, and policies that govern disability determinations. They can use this knowledge to anticipate potential issues, address them proactively, and craft persuasive arguments to support your claim.
  5. Assistance with ongoing benefits: After you’ve been approved for benefits, an attorney can provide guidance on managing your benefits, reporting any changes in your circumstances, and ensuring that you continue to meet the eligibility requirements.
  6. Contingency fee basis: Social Security disability attorneys work on a contingency fee basis, meaning that they only get paid if they successfully help you obtain benefits. This can make their services more accessible to those with limited financial resources.

While it’s possible to apply for SSI and SSDI benefits without an attorney, having a knowledgeable and experienced legal representative can significantly improve your chances of approval, help you avoid costly mistakes, and minimize the stress associated with navigating the disability benefits process.

Need help applying for SSI or SSDI benefits?