Children with disabilities may be eligible to receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA). SSI is a federal program that pays benefits to adults and children who have limited income and limited resources.
But after the SSA decides that a child is disabled, the agency will consider the child's household income to determine their eligibility for SSI benefits and how much the child is eligible to receive.
The SSA considers parents' income because a child's parents are financially responsible for their children, and the agency assumes part of the parents' income is used to house and feed their children. So the SSA attributes some of the parents' income to the child in a process called "deeming."
To determine a disabled child's eligibility for SSI benefits and the SSI benefit amount, Social Security considers a parent or stepparent's:
Earned income is money received for working a job or from self-employment (from running your own business or freelancing). Unearned income is money that is not "earned" and includes things like Social Security benefits, workers' compensation, pensions, and unemployment. The SSA considers both earned and unearned income when calculating the parent(s)' total income for deeming purposes.
The SSA doesn't consider all of a parent's income and resources in the deeming process. For example, the SSA doesn't consider the following types of income:
In addition, the SSA doesn't count the first $20 per month of any unearned income. This is known as the "general income exclusion." And for earned income, the SSA doesn't count the first $65 per month, plus one-half of the remaining earned income (the "earned income exclusion"). This sounds complicated, but we'll illustrate how it works with an example below.
Before deeming the parents' income to a child, the SSA makes adjustments to the income to account for the living expenses of anyone else in the home. This includes the parents themselves and any other children whose basic needs the parents also pay for.
The money allowed for the parents and other children is called an "allocation" for living expenses. These allocations reduce the amount of a parent's income that's deemed to the disabled child. The SSA only applies these allocations to the income of parents who are not also eligible for and receiving SSI benefits.
Allocation for other children. The SSA makes an allocation for nondisabled children's living expenses—this amount isn't considered part of the parent's income that can be deemed to the disabled child.
In 2023, the amount allocated to each nondisabled child in the family is $457 (this is the difference between the SSI rate for an individual and the SSI rate for a couple). But if a nondisabled child has his or her own income, the allocation amount may be lowered. And if nondisabled children in the family receive public income maintenance (PIM) payments, the SSA won't make an allocation for these children.
Parental living allowance. The SSA also provides a parental living allowance, and that amount reduces the amount of income deemed to a child. The amount of the parental living allowance depends on how many parents are in the disabled child's home (including stepparents). The parental living allowance for one parent is $914 (the federal SSI benefit rate); for two parents, the allowance is $1,371. This allowance is not given to parents who receive PIM payments.
To decide the amount of income that will be deemed to a disabled child, the SSA will:
Here's an example to help explain Social Security's deeming process.
The SSA uses the process of deeming parents' income if the disabled child:
The SSA will stop deeming parents' income:
Deeming can also stop for a few other reasons.
If your family experiences a change in status or family structure, the SSA may change how it deems family income. So be sure to keep the SSA updated if any of these changes occur in your family.
Parent becomes eligible for SSI. Deeming from the parent's income to the child stops when a parent becomes eligible for an SSI payment.
Parent stops receiving SSI. If a parent who was receiving SSI becomes ineligible for benefits, any income the parent makes will begin to be deemed to the child in the month the parent becomes ineligible for benefits.
Death of parent. When a parent dies, the SSA will stop deeming income from the deceased parent the month after the parent dies.
Child moves into a treatment facility. If a child moves into a medical treatment facility, the SSA stops deeming the parent's income; additionally, the child may become ineligible for SSI.
Child turns 18 years old. The SSA stops deeming the parents' income the month after a child turns 18 years old. After that, the child's own income is used to determine eligibility for SSI.
Parent and child stop living together. If the parent and child stop living in the same household, the SSA will no longer deem the parent's income, beginning the month following their separation.
Child starts living with stepparent only. If the biological/natural or adoptive parent leaves the child living with a stepparent, the SSA stops deeming income from the stepparent. In this situation, the SSA will consider only the child's own income to determine eligibility for SSI.
If a separation between the parent and child is temporary, then deeming doesn't stop. The SSA looks at several factors to decide if the agency will stop deeming the parental income:
Length of time. The SSA looks at how long the parent and child intended to be separated and how long they were actually separated to determine if the separation is permanent.
Away at school. If an eligible child goes away from home for school, but occasionally comes home for weekend visits, holidays, or vacations, then the SSA will continue deeming parental income, regardless of how long the child was away from home. An exception to this is where the parent no longer has "parental control" over the child (for example, if parental control was taken away by court order).
Living in a private non-medical facility. If a child moves to a private non-medical facility that doesn't provide educational or vocational training to the child, the separation from the parent is generally considered permanent; this means that the SSA won't deem the parent's income to the child.
The SSA won't deem parental income if all of the following criteria are met:
The deeming process is complex, and Social Security considers many factors when deciding what income is, and is not, subject to being deemed. The outcome of how much income is deemed can be pivotal when determining whether a disabled child is eligible for SSI and the amount of SSI payments the child can receive.
You can contact the SSA at 800-772-1213 to discuss how the deeming of your income will affect your child's eligibility for benefits.
Updated December 28, 2022
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