Understanding what benefits might be available to your child or loved one with special needs can be confusing. Different benefits apply in different circumstances, and sometimes different benefit programs can work together to help meet the needs of an individual. Childhood disabled beneficiary benefits (CDBs) are a case in point.
CDBs, provided through Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), are generally available to any minor or the “disabled adult child” of a person entitled to Social Security retirement or disability benefits, or of a person who was fully eligible for or receiving Social Security when she died. If determined eligible, a child may receive up to half of her parent’s full Social Security monthly benefit.
Primary Factors for Determining Eligibility
The Social Security Administration (SSA) starts by looking at four main factors when deciding if a child qualifies for CDBs:
- First, is the parent “fully insured” under Social Security law? A person is fully insured after working 40 quarters, or ten years. Under some circumstances, such as where a parent claims a disability for herself, benefits may be awarded to a child when the parent has worked for as little as six quarters.
- Second, what is the relationship of the child seeking benefits to the wage earner? The SSA uses a broad definition of child to include a range of relationships, from natural legitimate child to step-grandchild, and others. Under certain circumstances, your step-child may qualify for benefits under your Social Security record.
- Third, what is the age and marital status of the child? A child less than 18 years of age or less than 19 and a full-time student is eligible for benefits, regardless of whether she has a disability, if the parent is retired, disabled, or deceased. A child who is 18 or older and who has a disability that began before turning age 22 also is eligible for a CDB. The child must be unmarried, or have a marriage that was ended by annulment, divorce, or death.
- Fourth, was the child a dependent of the insured at the time she applied for benefits, at the time the insured became disabled or died, or otherwise became entitled to collect Social Security benefits?
When it comes to determining whether an adult child with disabilities may receive CDBs, there are several additional factors relating to the child’s disability that the SSA considers. According to the SSA, a person has a disability if he cannot engage in a “substantial gainful activity” because of a “medically determinable physical or mental impairment” that is expected to last for 12 months or result in death. The adult child’s medical disability must meet one of the medical impairments listed in the SSA’s regulations, and that impairment must limit his ability to work and earning capacity in ways that are explained in the regulations.
Start Planning Now
In terms of planning for future CDB benefits for your child with special needs, there are two important things to remember. If you think that your child might qualify for CDBs as a disabled adult child, be sure to obtain a finding of disability from her doctor before she reaches the age of 22. You might also want to explore eligibility for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) before applying for CDBs. SSI is a means-based program for people with disabilities that provides a limited monthly cash benefit. The bigger benefit that usually comes with SSI eligibility is access to Medicaid and long-term care, access that CDBs do not provide. With the CDB benefit limited to one-half the wage earner’s full Social Security benefit, having Medicaid can make a significant difference in the beneficiary’s life. However, receiving SSI in no way affects eligibility for CDBs. And, while receiving CDBs may lower the monthly SSI check, Medicaid will continue as long as the SSI benefit is at least $1.
You don’t want to wait to start planning if you think your child might be eligible for these benefits now or in the future. It is a complicated process that is best understood with the help of a professional knowledgeable about the complexities of special needs planning. Contact your special needs planner to discuss the best strategy for moving forward.