In Elder Law News

Son smiling and sitting in the lap of his father, who is using a wheelchair.A child may be eligible for Social Security benefits when at least one parent qualifies for Social Security retirement, disability, or death benefits. Children receive these benefits based on their parent's work records. In 2021, the Social Security Administration (SSA) provided an average of $2.8 billion in benefits to 4 million children each month.

Children who may get Social Security benefits can also include:

  • Adopted children
  • Stepchildren
  • Financially dependent grandchildren

Children of a retired or disabled parent or grandparent may receive up to one-half of the parent's full benefit amount. When a parent who worked long enough to meet the SSA's criteria dies, their child may receive up to 75 percent of the deceased parent’s survivor benefits.

These benefits may be granted to children until age 18. However, if a child is still in elementary or high school, the child may continue to get benefits until he or she either graduates high school or else reaches the age of 19 years and 2 months old. Children who became severely disabled before turning 22 may continue acquiring benefits as adults. In most cases, a child with a disability must be unmarried to receive benefits.

The maximum family payment

The SSA applies a maximum family payment to families receiving benefits through a parent's work record. The maximum family payment ranges from 150 percent to 180 percent of the parent's full benefit amount. Sometimes, the amount payable to all family members surpasses the limit. When that happens, the SSA decreases each family member's benefit proportionately. In other words, children with more siblings may receive smaller individual benefits than children with fewer siblings.

Other SSA Programs

  • SSISupplemental Security Income (SSI) is separate from Social Security retirement, disability, and death benefits.

    SSI is a needs-based program that provides benefits to individuals, including children, with certain disabilities and who reside in low-income households. According to the SSA, for a child to qualify for SSI, the child must have a severe physical or mental condition that limits the child's activities and has either lasted one year or is expected to be fatal.

    With regard to household income, the SSA subjects families receiving SSI to strict income thresholds and periodically reviews each child's disability status.

  • SSDI — Upon turning 18, an individual with a severe disability may be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), another SSA program. The individual must have become disabled before age 22.

    When a child with a disability turns 18, parental income no longer determines whether the individual will receive benefits. Instead, the SSA looks at the individual's income. If the individual is married, the SSA considers the spouse's income. Thus, children who were not eligible for SSI because of parental income may qualify for SSDI upon turning 18.

Applying for Social Security benefits

Parents and guardians may apply for Social Security benefits for their children. To apply, you may need:

  • The parent's Social Security number
  • The child's Social Security number
  • The child's birth certificate
  • Proof of adoption, such as the adoption certificate, for adopted children
  • Evidence of the parent's death, such as the death certificate, for survivor benefits
  • The medical documentation of the child's disability for children with disabilities

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