March is Developmental Disabilities Month. The National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities seeks to raise awareness about individuals living with these types of disabilities and improve their lives. This column has previously touched on some financial planning tools for individuals who have a disability. Some of these tools have included Supplemental Security Income (SSI), trusts, and ABLE accounts (https://keystoneelderlaw.com/planning-for-loved-ones-with-special-needs/).
The government provides a couple of different income benefits for children and adults who are disabled. These benefits are available through the Social Security Administration (SSA). This article will expand on the information we have previously shared about SSI.
SSI is available to several different types of people. Children under the age of 18, or individuals under the age of 22 who are students regularly attending school, may qualify for SSI if they have a medical condition(s) which the SSA defines as a disabling condition for children. An extensive list of the conditions and the qualifications for each condition to be considered disabling for the child are listed here according to body system: https://www.ssa.gov/disability/professionals/bluebook/ChildhoodListings.htm. Financial qualifications also exist. A portion of the parents’ income and assets will be considered in determining eligibility for the child.
An application for this benefit may take several months to process. Certain conditions create eligibility for immediate payments which may last up to 6 months while an application is processed. These conditions can include complete blindness or deafness, Cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, Muscular dystrophy, Symptomatic HIV infection, severe intellectual disability (age 4 and older), and birth weight less than 2 pounds, 10 ounces. If the application for benefits is ultimately denied, these payments will not have to be returned.
If the application is approved, the child’s medical condition must be reviewed periodically to ensure that the child continues to qualify for benefits. These reviews will occur by age 1 if low birth weight was the qualifying medical condition for an infant, or at least every 3 years for children under the age of 18 who have medical conditions which may allow for an improvement in functioning. Reviews may still occur even if improvement is not expected.
Once a child reaches the age of 18, the standards change and the individual must meet the medical and financial qualifications for adults in order to continue receiving the SSI benefit. SSI is potentially available to adults who are age 65 or older or are blind or disabled, and have limited income or resources.
Disability for an adult is considered to be a condition which prevents an individual’s participation in gainful work and may contribute to death or has existed/will exist for at least 12 continuous months.
Guidelines for what is and what is not counted as income and resources are very specific. Income is considered to be money (wages, pensions, benefit payments such as unemployment, interest, etc.) and food/shelter which is received for free or less than fair market value. However, certain types of income are exempted from consideration for SSI eligibility. For income guidelines visit: https://www.ssa.gov/ssi/text-income-ussi.htm.
In general, an individual is allowed to have countable resources of not more than $2,000 to be eligible for SSI, and the limit for a couple is $3,000. These amounts do not include the home/land where the individual/couple is living, one vehicle, personal property, and several other types of assets. For resource guidelines visit: https://www.ssa.gov/ssi/text-resources-ussi.htm.
In addition to the above eligibility requirements, an individual must be a U.S. citizen, a U. S. national, or in a certain category of aliens; reside in one of the 50 states, Washington D.C., or the Northern Mariana Islands; is not in a facility paid for by the government (such as a prison); and applies for other benefits for which he/she is potentially eligible.
SSI is a monthly payment which is provided to individuals who qualify. The SSI program is administered by the Social Security Administration, but funds for this program do not come from Social Security taxes and are not based on work history. An application for SSI benefits can be started online at www.ssa.gov/applyforbenefits or by telephone (1-800-772-1213).
Our discussion about financial tools for disabled children and adults will continue next week.
Karen Kaslow, RN, BSN