SSI Eligibility for Young People

SSI pays a monthly check to people who have low income and are disabled or blind. To get SSI, you have to meet certain rules. Some rules are the same, regardless of your age. For example:

However, other rules change a lot depending on your age. The biggest changes involve:

  • How SSI decides whether you have a disability
  • Whose income and resources are counted when SSI decides if your income and resources are low enough for you to get benefits

How to Apply for SSI

You can apply for SSI at your local Social Security office or by telephone at 1-800-772-1213 or 1-800-325-0778 (TTY). Talk to a Work Incentive Consultant to learn more about how to apply.

If you apply for SSI and qualify, you will also automatically qualify for the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS).

Eligibility Details

Our description of SSI eligibility below is divided into 4 parts. Click on the appropriate sections you want to read:

SSI if You Are Younger than 18

If you are under 18, SSI says you are a child and have a disability if:

  • You have a physical or mental impairment or combination of impairments
  • Your impairments cause severe limitations in your daily life, and
  • Your condition has lasted or is expected to last for at least 12 months.

Not everybody with a disability automatically gets benefits. You must also have no other way to pay for basic expenses like food, rent, and transportation. If you are under 18, SSI decides whether you need help by looking at the money you and your parents earn and the resources you and your parents have, including bank accounts, stocks, real estate, and insurance policies.

Note: You can open an ABLE account and over time save up to $100,000 in resources and not have them counted by SSI. Learn more about ABLE accounts.

Parent-to-Child Deeming

SSI counts both your income and resources and your parents’ income and resources when you are under 18 because they expect your parents to pay for your living expenses. This is called parent-to-child deeming.

For example, SSI could look at your parents’ income and decide to lower your benefits by $200 due to parent-to-child deeming. Instead of giving you a check for $771, they would give you a check for $571.

If you or your parents make too much money or have too many resources, you will not get SSI. The exact limits depend on the size of your family. A complete table of income limits for families with a disabled child is listed near the bottom of Social Security’s SSI for Children webpage.

Representative Payee

Almost all children under 18 have benefits sent to a parent or guardian. This person is called a representative payee. Occasionally, persons who are 16 or older can be their own payees, but they must meet strict criteria and prove that they are capable of managing their own finances.

If you live with one parent, and get child support from your other parent, SSI counts two-thirds of the child support as income.

Example

Your parent gets $300 each month from child support. SSI counts two-thirds of that and lowers your monthly SSI check by $200.

Sometimes child support comes in the form of food or shelter, instead of a check. In that case, SSI will figure out how much money that support is worth and count two-thirds of it as income. In the case of food and shelter, your benefits check could be lowered by a maximum of $277.00.

If You Get SSI and Are Turning 18

If you get SSI and then you turn 18, the biggest change in SSI eligibility rules is that you are considered an adult, not a child. When SSI decides whether you have a disability, SSI will not use their definition of disability for children. Instead, as an adult, SSI looks at your ability to work, not just your physical or mental limitations. That means that some people stop getting SSI benefits after they turn 18.

During the first year after you turn 18, SSI will automatically check to see if they still consider you disabled. This is called the SSI Age-18 Redetermination. They will say you have a disability if:

  • You have a physical or mental impairment or combination of impairments
  • Your impairments limit your ability to work, and
  • Your condition has lasted or is expected to last for at least 12 months.

SSI may also look at your work and school record to see if you are able to work and may even talk to your teachers, counselors, or employers.

Disability determination and work at age 18

If you are going through the SSI Age-18 redetermination, Social Security may consider you to have a disability, even if you are working.

If SSI decides that you are not disabled because you don’t meet the adult definition of disability, you will no longer be able to get SSI benefits. They will keep sending you SSI checks for 2 months, but then your benefits will end. In this situation, if you still want to get SSI you have 2 options:

  1. You can appeal. When SSI sends you the letter telling you that your benefits are ending, you have 10 days to request an appeal. During the appeal process, you can ask that SSI continue your benefits until they make a decision. Click here for more information or read the section on SSI Appeals in DB101’s SSI article.
  2. If you are participating in an employment support program, like Vocational Rehabilitation, an Individual Education Program, a PASS plan, or any other program approved by SSI that will help you get a good job in the future, you can apply to continue benefits through a special rule called Section 301.

If SSI says that you meet the adult definition of disability and that you will continue to get benefits after turning 18, these are things that could impact the monthly amount you get:

  • Parent-to-child deeming ends. This means that SSI will no longer count your parents’ income and resources when considering your eligibility for benefits. This may help you get higher benefits than before you were 18.
  • If you or your family gets child support for your living expenses, SSI will now count the full amount as income. This may cause your benefits to go down.
  • Your living situation: If you live alone or pay your fair share of expenses as a roommate with others, your benefit amount may be higher than if you live with others who help pay for your food and shelter.
  • In-kind support and maintenance: If someone else helps to pay for your food or rent, your benefit amount may be lowered by up to one-third ($257.00). This is called a Value Third Reduction (VTR).

If you have any questions about this, talk to a Work Incentive Consultant.

SSI if You Are Already 18 or Older

If you are 18 or older and did not get SSI before turning 18, SSI says you are an adult and have a disability if:

  • You have a physical or mental impairment or combination of impairments
  • Your impairments limit your ability to work, preventing you from earning Substantial Gainful Activity ($1,220 per month or $2,040 per month if you’re blind), and
  • Your condition has lasted or is expected to last for at least 12 months
Turning 18

Some people who get SSI before they are 18 lose it when they turn 18 because they don’t meet the adult definition of disability. Other people who couldn’t get SSI before they were 18 due to parent-to-child deeming may now be able to get it.

Not everybody who meets the adult definition of disability automatically gets benefits. You must also have no other way to pay for basic expenses like food, rent, and transportation. If you are over 18, SSI decides whether you need help by looking at your income and how many resources you have, including bank accounts, stocks, real estate, and insurance policies.

There are certain cases where SSI will not lower your benefits because you have a job or are saving money. Read about these in the section on Incentives that Help You Go to School, Work, and Save.

Keep track of your expenses

If you are working, you may have to spend money on things like transportation, medical expenses, or accommodations to do your job. SSI considers some of these expenses to be Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWEs) and will not count the money you spend on them as income. This means you may be able to prevent your SSI benefits from being lowered or stopped. Be sure to keep all receipts for expenses you think qualify as IRWEs.

If you are blind, the rules are a bit different and there are more types of expenses that SSI will not count as income. These expenses are called Blind Work Expenses (BWEs).

Incentives That Help You Go to School, Work, and Save

SSI and many other government benefits programs have strict limits on how much income and savings you can have. If you go over the limits, you will no longer get benefits. The problem is that sometimes they end up preventing people from working and saving.

When the government realized that these limits were actually stopping people from getting jobs, saving money, and living better, they created work incentives like the Student Earned Income Exclusion (SEIE), Plans to Achieve Self-Support (PASS), Individual Development Accounts (IDAs), and ABLE accounts that help you earn and save money without losing your benefits.

Student Earned Income Exclusion (SEIE)

Usually, if you make too much money, your SSI benefits will either go down or stop altogether. There are some exceptions to this rule, however, which SSI calls exclusions.

One of those exclusions is the Student Earned Income Exclusion (SEIE). This exclusion allows students to earn up to $1,870 per month, and up to $7,550 per year, without having those wages count as part of their countable income.

In order to qualify for the SEIE, you have to be under 22, working, and regularly attending school. That usually means you have to go to school more than:

  • 8 hours a week for college students
  • 12 hours a week for grades 7 to 12
  • 12 to 15 hours a week for employment training
Example

You make $1,050 per month at a summer job. During the school year, you also make $350 each month at a work-study job. Since the money you make doesn’t exceed the monthly and annual limits for the SEIE, your SSI benefits won’t decrease at all.

If you drop out of school, you will no longer get the SEIE, and you will get smaller benefits than you would have gotten if you had stayed in school. Stay in school! You’ll get more money thanks to the SEIE, and when you graduate, you’ll get a higher paying job thanks to your degree!

Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS)

Usually, if you have too many resources or too much income, you will no longer qualify for SSI. Setting up a PASS is one way for people getting SSI to save money without having it count against their benefits eligibility.

To set up a PASS, you must qualify for SSI, have a specific work goal, and have expenses that you need to pay to reach your job goal. You must also show that you’ll have enough income to pay for your basic living expenses after you’ve set up your PASS.

There are a couple of big advantages to having a PASS:

  • You can use unearned income to save money, which means that you can start saving even if you don’t have a job yet.
  • SSI does not count the money that you place in a PASS account as income or resources. So you can earn and save more with a PASS without having your SSI benefits lowered.

The limitation is that the money you save with a PASS must be used for an employment-related expense. However, those expenses can include things like money for school, transportation, books, and services.

For more information, read DB101’s PASS section or contact a PASS Cadre.