Supplemental Security Income for
Persons with Disabilities
Contributed by Marci Wheeler, M.S.W.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is financial assistance, provided by the federal government, to eligible persons with disabilities. It is money in the form of a monthly check that helps pay for basics such as food and shelter. It is available to people who are elderly, blind, or disabled (according to Social Security's Listing of Impairments), and who have little assets or income. Adults must document that the disability is expected to last 12 months (or result in death) and interferes with their capacity for "substantial" work. There is a different standard for childhood disability.
In determining medical eligibility for a child, the child's physical or mental condition, or combination of conditions, must be medically-proven. A functional assessment must be conducted and show that the child's condition(s) results in "marked and severe functional limitations," and is expected to last 12 months or result in death. The Disability Determination Bureau (DDB) in Indiana now looks at six areas of functioning in relation to a child's age. Functional limitations are assessed in the areas of cognition/ communication skills, motor skills, and social skills (how the child gets along with others is very important) in children birth to age 18. Children ages 3 to 18 also are assessed for self-care and focusing/concentration skills. For very young infants from birth to 12 months, responsiveness to stimuli is reviewed.
The Social Security Administration must consider all options for qualifying a child. A specific form (SSA-538) must be completed before a decision is made. A Social Security worker can supply you with a copy of this form. The law also requires a continuing disability review (CRD) at least every three years to determine whether or not the child is still disabled. Also, any child who was eligible before age 18 must, during the one year period beginning on his/her 18th birthday, have eligibility redetermined using the rules for adults.
When applying for SSI it is important to supply as much information as possible from medical sources, school records, and others who have evaluated and/or who know the child well, such as child care providers, therapists, and close family friends. Complete information is not required to apply. What information you do not have the Social Security Office will obtain with your permission. A list of your child's medical, mental health, and educational providers will also be requested. Income information will need to be provided at the time of application. The determination process usually takes from 2 to 3 months, but benefits are retroactive back to the month of application.
Once all documentation is obtained by the Social Security Administration, it is determined whether both financial and medical eligibility are met. Many adults with disabilities meet the income eligibility guidelines because they do not have full- or part-time employment that brings their income to the maximum allowed. Some people with disabilities have too many assets in the form of bank accounts, life insurance or trusts in their name, which causes them to be ineligible for SSI benefits.
In the case of too many assets, a lawyer or someone knowledgeable about the law can be consulted for information on how to set aside funds for the person without jeopardizing eligibility for SSI and other benefits. The ARC of Indiana and Indiana Protection and Advocacy may provide help with this. If a person is turned down on the basis of lack of proof of a disability, an appeal can be filed. Instructions for the appeal process are provided in writing when the eligibility statement is received. It is very important, when appealing, that you follow the instructions that are provided on the back of your eligibility letter. Do not give up. There are four levels for appeals: reconsideration, hearing, Appeals Court review, and Federal Court action. During the appeal process you can provide new reports or information, such as medical or educational records that may have been overlooked and/or new test results provided by different doctors, educators and professionals.
For more information about Social Security benefits there is a national toll free number: 1-800-772-1213 or TDD: 1-800-325-0778 from 7a.m. to 7p.m. on weekdays. It may be hard to get through, but keep trying. The best time to get through is early or late in the day. You may be offered an automated service when a representative is not immediately available. The automated service allows you to request forms or pamphlets and hear recorded messages about various Social Security programs. The Social Security Administration website is https://www.ssa.gov/.
The attached material was reproduced through support from Indiana University, Bloomington. The information presented herein does not necessarily reflect the position or policy of Indiana University and no official endorsement should be inferred.
The Indiana Resource Center for Autism (IRCA) is one of eight centers located at the Indiana Institute on Disability and Community, Indiana University, Bloomington. The work of the Indiana Institute encompasses the entire life span, from birth through older adulthood, and addresses topical areas that include:
- Young children and families
- School inclusion
- Information and referral
- Planning and policy studies
- Technology/ technological adaptations
- Individual and family perspectives
The Indiana Institute on Disability and Community pursues it's mission with support from Indiana University and funding from federal and state agencies, and foundations.
For more information, contact: The Indiana Resource Center for Autism, Indiana Institute on Disability and Community, Indiana University, 1905 North Range Rd, Bloomington, IN 47408-9801, call (812) 855-6508.
Materials developed by the Indiana Institute are available in alternative formats upon request.
Wheeler, M. (2001). Supplemental security income for persons with developmental disabilities. Bloomington, IN: Indiana Resource Center for Autism.