Turning 18 and Starting College

Before he graduated from high school, Alice, the VR counselor on Eric’s IEP team, suggested he look into disability benefits through the Social Security Administration (SSA) when he turned 18 over the summer and recommended DB101’s Young People and Benefits section. Eric had never qualified for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits in the past because of his family’s income and resources, but after he and his parents tried out DB101’s School and Work Estimator, they saw that that he probably would qualify after he turned 18.

Eric’s family used a speakerphone to call a Work Incentive Consultant because they didn’t understand why he could start getting benefits when he turned 18. Alan, an expert in disability issues, answered the phone. They asked Alan why Eric would start getting SSI even though he still lived at home, and Alan explained, “Eric, when you turn 18, Social Security will consider you an adult. That means that they won’t deem any of your parents’ income and resources when they consider your application. When I say they won’t deem, what that means is that they’ll completely ignore your parents’ money – you are considered an independent adult. Eric, do you have any income or resources of your own?”

Eric answered that he did not and Alan continued, “That’s why you’ll get SSI, because you will be an independent adult with no income and no resources. Before you turn 18, Social Security looks at your parents and figures they’ll support you financially, but once you turn 18, Social Security knows that you’ll need your own source of income.”

“That’s great news,” exclaimed Eric. “It’s exciting that I’ll have some spending money of my own for the first time!”

Alan had one more question for Eric related to SSI: “Will you be paying for rent or food while you live with your parents?”

“No,” responded Eric. “Why does that matter?”

“SSI will help you financially according to how much help you need. When they figure out your benefits amount, they’ll consider your living expenses. If you don’t pay for rent or food, they’ll reduce the monthly SSI benefits you get. It’s called a ‘Value Third Reduction (VTR).’ It means that the largest benefit you could possibly get would be 33% lower than the maximum SSI benefit for somebody who lives by himself. So, instead of getting a maximum benefit of $771 per month, the most you could possibly get would be $514.00 per month.”

Eric did some mental math and agreed that made sense.

Alan asked, “Anyway, when you’re about to turn 18, get in touch with Social Security and get that SSI application started. Now what about health insurance? Do you have any?”

Eric’s father piped up, “Yes, Eric has had AHCCCS for years. He has always qualified because our family income was below the AHCCCS income limit. Will anything change?”

“Eric will continue to get AHCCCS and won’t have to pay anything for it,” Alan replied. “I just wanted to make sure that Eric knew that when he starts qualifying for SSI, he’ll automatically qualify for AHCCCS as well. The family income won't matter anymore and he won't have to do any extra paperwork either.”

When Eric was close to turning 18, he started his SSI application. Then, right after he turned 18, he called Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 to schedule an appointment to complete the SSI application. The SSI claims representative he spoke with over the phone said that it was really important for Eric to come to his appointment with documentation about all the barriers he had from his disability, including medical records, doctor’s notes, school records, and anything else that would explain the situation.

On the day of his appointment, Eric had all his paperwork ready and the Social Security claims representative said it looked like they had everything they needed to make a decision, but it would take a while to process the application. Six weeks later, Eric got a letter saying that he was eligible for SSI benefits. As Alan had said, he wouldn’t get the maximum benefits amount of $771 per month because he was living with his parents and not paying for food or rent. Instead, he’d get $514.00 per month, which was still a big help with his expenses. He'd also get AHCCCS coverage automatically.