Qualifying for SSI as a Child: How Family Income Deeming Works

Social Security counts only part of the income of a disabled child's parents when determining SSI eligibility.

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To determine whether a disabled child is eligible for SSI benefits, and how much the child is eligible to receive, the Social Security Administration (SSA) must consider any income sources available to the child. The SSA presumes that the disabled child shares in parents' income. Attributing some of the parent's income to a child is called "deeming" income. The outcome of the deeming process is important because it can make some children ineligible for payments.

What Kind of Income Is Counted in the Deeming Process?

Social Security considers the following sources of income to determine a disabled child's eligibility and SSI payment amounts:

  • parents' earned income, parent's unearned income, and parents' other resources (assets), and
  • step-parents' earned and unearned income and resources, if the child lives with the step-parent and the natural or adoptive parent.

Earned income is money that comes from a job. Unearned income is money that comes from sources such as investments or unemployment. The SSA considers both earned and unearned income when calculating the parent(s)' total income.

What Kind of Income Is Not Counted in the Deeming Process?

The SSA does not consider all income and resources in the deeming process. For example, the SSA does not consider welfare or public income maintenance (PIM) payments such as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) or the VA Pension for veterans, as long as the public income payment was originally calculated based on the family's income.

There are also other sources of money that the SSA will exclude from the deeming process. Here are some examples:

  • foster care payments
  • food stamps
  • disaster assistance
  • tax refunds on real property, and
  • homegrown produce for personal consumption.

Allocations for Family Member's Living Expenses

Before deeming the parents' income, the SSA makes adjustments to the parents' income amounts to account for the living expenses for both the parents and any other children that live in the house. These are called "allocations." These allocations reduce the amount of a parent's income that is deemed to the disabled child. These allocations are only applicable to disabled children whose parents are not on disability.

Allocation for other children. The SSA makes an allocation for nondisabled children's living expenses—this amount will not be considered part of the parent's income that can be deemed. In 2021, the amount allocated to each nondisabled child in the family is $397 (this is the difference between the SSI rate for an individual and the SSI rate for a couple). If the nondisabled child has his or her own income, or if the child receives public assistance, the allocation amount may be lowered.

Parental living allowance. The SSA also reduces the amount of income deemed to a child for a parental living allowance. The amount of the parental living allowance depends on how many parents are in the disabled child's home (including step and adoptive parents). The parental living allowance for one parent is $794 (the federal SSI benefit rate); for two parents, the allowance is $1,191. (This allowance is not given to parents who receive public assistance.)

The SSA will subtract the nondisabled children's allocations from the parents' income, then deduct certain amounts from the parent's income, and then deduct the parents' living allowance to come up with the amount of income that is deemed to the disabled child.

When Does the SSA Use Deeming?

The SSA uses the process of "deeming" parents' income if the disabled child:

  • is under the age of 18
  • is unmarried, and
  • lives at home with parent(s) who are not SSI recipients.

When Deeming Stops

The SSA will stop deeming parents' income:

  • when the child turns 18
  • if the child marries, or
  • if the child stops living with the parent(s).

Deeming can also stop for a number of other reasons.

Changes in Living Circumstances

If there is a change in status or family structure, deeming may be affected; therefore, you must keep the SSA updated if any of these changes occur in your family.

Parent stops receiving SSI. If a parent who was receiving SSI becomes ineligible for benefits, the parent's income will be deemed to the child in the month he or she becomes ineligible for benefits.

Parent becomes eligible for SSI. Deeming from the parent's income to the child stops when the parent becomes eligible for an SSI payment.

Death of parent. When a parent dies, deeming from the deceased parent's income stops the month after the parent dies.

Child moves into a treatment facility. When a child moves into a medical treatment facility, deeming is stopped; additionally, the child may become ineligible for SSI.

Child turns 18. Deeming stops the month after the child turns 18. 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 parent's income will no longer be deemed, beginning the month following their separation.

Child starts living with step-parent only. If the biological or adoptive parent leaves the child living with a step-parent, deeming stops. The SSA will consider only the child's own income to determine eligibility for SSI.

Temporary Absences

If a separation between parent and child is temporary, then deeming is not affected. The SSA looks at several factors to decide if deeming of the parental income should stop.

Intent. 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.

School. If an eligible child is away from home for school, but occasionally comes home for weekend visits, holidays, or vacations, then deeming continues, 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).

Private non-medical facility. If a child lives in a private non-medical facility that does not provide educational or vocational training to the child, the separation from the parent is generally considered permanent; this means that the parent's income is not deemed to the child.

Exception to Deeming for Institutionalized Children

Deeming does not apply if all of the following criteria are met:

  • the child lives in a medical facility
  • receives reduced SSI payments
  • the child is eligible for Medicare under a state home care plan, and
  • deeming would make the child ineligible for SSI.

Contact Social Security for Help

The deeming process is complex and considers many factors when deciding what income is, and is not, considered. The outcome is pivotal when determining whether a disabled child is eligible for SSI and the amount of SSI payments the child may be entitled to. You should contact the SSA at 800-772-1213 to discuss how the deeming process affects your child's eligibility for benefits.

Updated February 10, 2021

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