Parent Focus: Turning 18

SSI Rules That Change

If your child gets Supplemental Security Income (SSI) before turning 18, your child’s benefits might go up or down once he or she becomes an adult.

If your child doesn’t get SSI before age 18, he or she might start to qualify as an adult.

Different Definitions of Disability for Children and Adults

To get SSI, your child’s disability must meet the Social Security Administration’s standards:

  • For a child under 18, physical or mental impairments must cause severe limitations in daily life.
  • For an adult, physical or mental impairments must limit the ability to work.

While these standards are somewhat different, neither one stops a person from working. Working will make your child’s life better over the long term as an adult, without causing SSI benefits to end automatically.

Exactly how your child’s disability is evaluated as an adult depends on whether your child gets SSI before turning 18.

If Your Child Gets SSI Before Age 18

Children who get SSI benefits before turning 18 have to go through an Age-18 Redetermination before turning 19 to make sure their disabilities meet the adult standards:

  • The Age-18 Redetermination is simpler than a standard adult disability determination, because your child cannot be disqualified from having a disability just because he or she earns too much money.
  • An SSI rule called Section 301 means that if your child is in a program such as an Individualized Education Program (IEP), Vocational Rehabilitation (VR), or Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS), he or she may keep getting SSI for a while even if your child’s impairment no longer qualifies as a disability.

If Your Child Doesn’t Get SSI Before 18

If your child didn’t get SSI before turning 18, Social Security will review your child’s medical condition to make sure it matches their definition of disability. As part of this disability determination, they will check to make sure your child earns $1,550 per month or less to be determined to have a disability. This amount is called the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) level. After your child starts getting SSI benefits, he or she can make more than the SGA level and keep getting benefits, as long as his or her countable income isn’t over the program’s income limit.

More SSI Changes at 18

Children under 18 who get SSI have representative payees, which means that the child’s benefits are usually sent to the parent. When turning 18, your child can ask to have all benefits sent directly to him or her.

At age 18, other SSI rules can affect whether your child qualifies for benefits and how much your child gets:

  • Parent-to-child deeming ends. This means SSI stops counting parental income and resources when figuring out your child’s benefits, so benefits could begin or the benefits amount could go up.
  • If somebody else pays for your child’s food or shelter, including parents, your child’s SSI benefits could go down by up to a third.
The bottom line

Many things affect whether your child gets benefits and how much. However, SSI is designed to make sure your child is better off when working, both during childhood and adulthood.

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