Earlier this week, we wrote about the dilemma faced by children receiving Supplemental Security Income who, as they become old enough to work, are often forced to choose between a part-time income and the SSI benefits their family has depended on for years. Aside from depriving teenagers of the valuable skills learned through part-time employment, SSI dependence can also leave teens unprepared for the likelihood that they will be denied similar benefits upon reaching adulthood.
Many children who receive SSI do so on the basis of mental disorders and learning disabilities, such as ADD, ADHD, depression, bipolar disorder and other behavioral disorders. Under the SSA definition of disability as it applies to children, the recipient must only exhibit "marked and severe" impairments compared to peers of similar ages. However, under the adult definition, a recipient must be unable to hold an income-earning job or participate in "substantial gainful activity".
Therefore, while teenagers with learning and mental disabilities may easily qualify for SSI benefits as a child, it becomes more difficult to maintain SSI as an adult. As a result, only six of every 10 children who apply for adult SSI benefits upon turning 18 are approved. Further, two of every three children who qualified for SSI based on a learning or mental disability are found not to qualify for adult benefits, leaving them without income and unprepared for the next chapter of their life.
Although the Social Security Administration has acknowledged that this transitional problem exists, it has found itself basically powerless to resolve it. One SSA program allows any full-time student under the age of 22 to earn up to $6,600 per year without affecting any loss of SSI benefits. However, only three percent of those eligible for the program use it.
Therefore, children are remaining unprepared for adult life and employment because their families cannot afford to turn down the SSI benefits they receive each month. As stated by the mother of a child who is facing a loss of SSI income after her daughter began working part-time, "These kids don't want to be dependent, but the system makes them dependent."
Source: The Boston Globe, "A cruel dilemma for those on the cusp of adult life", Patricia Wen, 14 December 2010