Finding yourself unable to work due to a disability can be a struggle when you have children to support.
If you don't have private disability insurance, there are several government programs that provide insurance and income to disabled workers. But if you’re approved for disability benefits, will your children be eligible for dependent benefits as well?
Social Security Disability Insurance vs. Supplemental Security Income
The federal government has two programs for adults who can no longer work due to disability. Both are administered through Social Security, but they come from different revenue sources and have very different requirements.
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is an earned benefit that you receive because you worked long enough to earn the credit necessary. Much like Social Security retirement income, you pay into the fund while you are working. If you meet the work credit requirements when you become disabled, you are entitled to benefits.
The number of work credits you need is based on how old you are when you become disabled. The younger you are, the less time you have had to work, and the fewer credits you need.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is paid for by tax revenues and kicks in if you don’t have enough work credits to qualify for SSDI. You are eligible for SSI if you are either:
- Age 65 or older
You also can’t have assets of more than $2,000 as an individual or child, or greater than $3,000 as a couple.
If you receive SSI, only you can receive benefits. Your children cannot receive benefits, though disabled children may be entitled to their own SSI benefit. If you’re on SSI, your children may qualify for benefits in other ways but not based on your disability.
If you receive SSDI, both you and your children may qualify for benefits while they are dependent on you.
Further Requirements for SSDI Benefits
Only biological, adopted, or dependent children and stepchildren can receive SSDI benefits based on your disability. They must also be unmarried and younger than 18 years old.
If the child is still in high school at age 18, they will continue receiving benefits until they graduate or reach age 19, whichever is sooner.
Grandchildren and step-grandchildren might also be eligible for benefits if both of their parents are deceased or disabled, you provide regular support for the grandchild, and you receive disability benefits.
To qualify for dependent benefits, the grandchild/step-grandchild must either:
- Have lived with you beginning before age 18 and received at least half their support from you for the 12 months before you began receiving benefits
- Be younger than 12 months and have lived with you most of their life while receiving at least half their support from you
For children to receive benefits, they must have a valid birth certificate and Social Security number. If your child doesn’t have a Social Security number, you can apply for one.
How Much Will the Child Receive?
The benefit children receive is based on the benefit amount of the person who is disabled.
A child can receive as much as 50% of the disabled person’s total SSDI benefit, but the actual percentage is determined based on individual factors.
There’s also a maximum family benefit. A single family is normally capped at 150% to 180% of the disabled person’s SSDI benefit. For households with multiple children, each child's benefit may be reduced to stay within this family maximum.
Although the children’s benefits may be adjusted to stay within the household maximum, the benefit of the disabled person will not change.
Here’s how the math works based on a hypothetical disabled parent with four dependent children.
- The disabled parent receives 100% of the SSDI benefit.
- Each child receives 50% of the SSDI benefit.
100% + 50% + 50% + 50% + 50% = 300%
Since this total is greater than the 150% to 180% maximum, each child's benefit would decrease to 20% or less, while the parent's benefit would remain unchanged.
100% + 20% + 20% + 20% + 20% = 180%
This brings the total family payout to within the acceptable maximum family benefit.
Children may receive survivor benefits of up to 75% of the deceased parent’s benefit until they reach the age of 18, or 19 if they’re still in high school.
Grandchildren may also receive survivor benefits if they meet the same eligibility requirements as they did to qualify for benefits when the person was living but disabled. Qualified grandchildren will receive 75% of their grandparent’s SSDI benefit.