Many Children on SSI Lose Eligibility as Adults

Supplemental Security Income is a lifeline for millions of Americans who cannot work and have little to no income or assets. It is also available to the families of children who have a serious physical or mental disability as it, unlike Social Security Disability Income, does not require applicants to have a prior work history.

Because of a 1990 Supreme Court decision, it became much easier for children with behavioral or developmental disorders to qualify for SSI, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism and depression. 

The number of children who received SSI nearly tripled in the six years following the decision, and at that point, most children who received SSI stayed on the assistance program through adulthood.

However, the 1996 welfare reform law made it so children on SSI had to re-qualify for the program once they reached the age of 18.

As a result, only about 60 percent of adults who were on SSI as children remain eligible. According to research by a doctoral student at MIT that was discussed by The Washington Post, this law change dealt a huge blow to children who were essentially kicked off of SSI once turning 18.

The researcher found that it was common for these individuals to work more after being kicked off of SSI, but they were often unable to earn the same amount on average that they received through SSI.

Additionally, children who qualified for SSI based on learning disabilities or mental health disorders were less likely to stay eligible after turning 18. The MIT researcher concluded that these individuals may not be as capable of working after turning 18 as we assume.

When individuals who received SSI benefits as children turn 18, the Social Security Administration is required to redetermine their eligibility using the adult program rules, which is based on the inability to perform substantial gainful activity.

It is extremely wise to work with an experienced disability lawyer during the redetermination and postredetermination stages to ensure that individuals who received SSI benefits as children continue to get the support they need after turning 18.