Can my 5-year-old son be denied Social Security benefits based on our income?

Q: Our doctor suggested that my 5-year-old son may be eligible for Social Security benefits. However, when I called our local office, they told us we may not qualify for certain benefits because our family income was too high. I thought benefits were for all people with disabilities, regardless of income? Can you explain this?

A: When a child is under 18 and the parent applies for SSI on behalf of the child, a portion of the parents’ income and resources is considered in determining the financial eligibility of the child. This process is called deeming. With this type of application, the Social Security Administration asks for an accounting of the parents’ income and resources, in order to determine what portion to “deem” as belonging to the child. Certain types of income are not included, such as foster care stipends for other children in the family and Social Security payments to the parents. Certain resources are also allowed – a house, a car, personal possessions and either $2,000 or $3,000, depending on whether there are one or two parents in the home. Once the income and resources are determined, they are compared to the family size to see if the child meets the financial criteria for SSI. If so, the child must also meet the clinical criteria before an award will be issued.

A family need not be destitute in order for the child to be financially eligible. For example, with a family consisting of two parents and one child, the family income, after deeming, can be approximately $37,000. for the year and the individual may still qualify for SSI. As the family size increases, so does the allowed amount.