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 assets are counted when SSI decides if your income and assets are low enough for you to get benefits

We’ll explain these changes below.

Cash Assistance Program for Immigrants (CAPI)

The Cash Assistance Program for Immigrants (CAPI) is a California program that gives money to certain legal immigrants who do not qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. Read more about CAPI in DB101’s CAPI article.

How to Apply for SSI

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

If you apply for SSI and qualify, you will also automatically qualify for California’s State Supplemental Payment (SSP) program, which gives you an additional cash benefit, and Medi-Cal, which will give you health coverage.

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 assets you and your parents have, including savings accounts, stocks, and real estate.

Parent-to-Child Deeming

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

If you or your parents make too much money or have too many assets, you will not get SSI. The exact limits depend on the size of your family. For example, if you live with both your parents and you have no siblings, the earned income limit is usually $4,033 per month and the asset limit is $2,000.

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.

If your income and assets and your parents’ income and assets don’t exceed the limits, you will get a monthly SSI check, which will include an additional cash benefit supplied by California’s State Supplemental Program (SSP). If you live with your parents or other relatives, the maximum check you can get is $784.40.

Representative Payee

Almost all children under 18 have benefits sent to a parent or guardian. This person is called a representative payee.

Example

SSI considers your parents’ income and decides to lower your benefits amount by $200 due to Parent-to-Child Deeming. Instead of giving you a check for $784.40, they give you a check for $584.40.

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 reduces 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 reduced by a maximum of $256.67.

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 you were not getting SSI before you turned 18 and you apply for SSI as an adult, Social Security may consider you to have a disability if you are working, but only if you make less than $1,070 per month ($1,800 per month if you’re blind).

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. 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 two options:

  1. You can appeal. When SSI sends you the letter telling you that your benefit is 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. For more information about appealing, click here.
  2. If you are participating in an employment support program, like Vocational Rehabilitation (VR), an Individualized Education Program (IEP), a Plan for Achieving Self-Support (PASS), or any other program approved by SSI that will help you get a good job in the future, you can apply to continue getting 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 you turn 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 assets when considering your eligibility for benefits. This may help you get a higher benefits amount than before you were 18.
  • If you or your family gets child support for your living expenses, SSI will now count all of it as income. This may cause your benefits to go down.
  • You living situation: If you live alone or pay your fair share of expenses as a roommate with others, your benefits amount may be higher than if you would live with others who help pay for your food and shelter.
  • Cooking facilities: If you live in a home or a hotel, for example, without cooking facilities, your benefits amount may be higher.
  • In-Kind Support and Maintenance: If someone else helps to pay for your food or rent, your benefits amount may go down by up to one-third ($240.33. This is called a Value Third Reduction (VTR).

If you have any questions about this, talk to a Benefits Planner.

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 ($1,070 per month or $1,800 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 benefits before they are 18 lose their benefits when they turn 18 because they don’t meet the adult definition of disability. Other people who couldn’t get SSI benefits before they were 18 due to Parent-to-Child Deeming may now be able to get benefits.

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 assets you have, including savings accounts, stocks, and real estate.

If you have more than Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) in earned income, or too much unearned income, or if your assets are above the asset limit, you will not get SSI. If your income and assets don’t exceed the limits, you’ll get monthly benefits. The amount of money you get each month will depend on your income.

If you don’t have more assets than the limit and SSI sees that you don’t have any money to spend on your basic needs, they’ll send you the maximum benefit amount each month, which will include an additional cash benefit from California’s State Supplemental Payment (SSP) program.

In 2014, the maximum benefit is $877.40 ($932.40 if you’re blind). If SSI looks at your income and sees that you have some money, but not enough for all of your basic needs, they’ll give you less money than the maximum.

If you live in another person’s household and don’t pay your share of rent, food, and other expenses, the maximum benefit is $640.50 ($695.50 if you’re blind).

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 these limits 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 for Achieving Self-Support (PASS), and Individual Development Accounts (IDAs) 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 be stopped 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 $1,750 per month, and up to $7,060 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 7-12, or
  • 12-15 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 go down at all.

If you drop out of school, you will no longer get the SEIE, and you will get a smaller benefits amount than you would 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 for Achieving Self-Support (PASS)

Usually, if you have too many assets or too much income, you will no longer qualify for SSI. Setting up a Plan for Achieving Self-Support (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 assets. 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 article on Plan for Achieving Self-Support (PASS) or contact a PASS Cadre.