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Children Become Dependent on SSI Benefits for Sake of Family Finances, Part One

We recently wrote about Supplemental Security Income (SSI), under which a child under 18 may qualify for financial support if he has an impairment lasting for at least one year that renders him unable to perform any substantial income-earning work. Physical disabilities, mental and learning disorders, and blindness all may qualify a child for SSI, but there are certain other conditions a child and his family must meet. First, the child must have a condition or combination of conditions that fulfills the definition of disability for children, as set forth by the Social Security Administration (SSA). Second, the income and other financial resources of the child and his family must be within the limits set by the SSA.

While this monthly income is often sorely needed by children with disabilities and their families, there is new attention to the dilemma that it naturally creates. A natural step on the path to adulthood is the part-time job, which is valuable not only to earn extra money, but to prepare children for adult life. However, children receiving SSI are often put in a no-win situation: either they work, and risk losing the SSI income their family has come to rely on, or they remain unemployed and risk becoming dependent on SSI programs for the remainder of their life.

Under Social Security Administration regulations, a teenager receiving SSI may keep the first $85 of earned income each month without affecting SSI benefits. Amounts beyond that, however, can cut SSI dramatically. For every $2 earned, the SSA will deduct $1 from SSI checks. Further, if the teenager's income pushes the family total household earnings over the income threshold, SSI can be cut off in its entirety.

It is easy to see how a family can become dependent on SSI checks, and how a teen can feel trapped by his disability. This can easily discourage a child from entering the workforce, according to David Rust of the SSA's Office of Retirement and Disability Policy. "The question becomes whether it increases the chances the child will see himself forever dependent on government programs of some sort," he said. 'It's very destructive to the child and the child's well-being."

We will continue our discussion of this topic on Friday.

Source: The Boston Globe, "A cruel dilemma for those on the cusp of adult life", Patricia Wen, 14 December 2010

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