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  Updated: JUL 2012

Child Disability Benefits Better than SSI

By: Barbara A. Isenhour and Sean R. Bleck

If you have a special needs child receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, there may be a point when your child will be eligible for a disability benefit based upon your social security account. The benefit is called Child Disability Benefits or CDB.

Who is Eligible for Child Disability Benefits?

CDB is only available to a disabled person age 18 or over who is:

the child of a parent who is currently receiving Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) or Social Security Retirement Income (SSRI) or;

the child of a deceased parent who was insured for Social Security benefits at the time of the parent's death; and

the child was disabled before the age of 22 and remained continuously disabled until the parent became disabled, retired or died; and

the child does not marry, unless the spouse is also receiving social security benefits.

If the CDB is based upon the parent's disability, the child's benefit will end if the parent no longer qualifies for SSDI benefits because the parent's disability ended. Natural and adopted children can be eligible for this benefit and in some cases a step-child or grandchild can qualify depending upon whether the stepparent or grandparent supported the disabled child/grandchild before qualifying for SSDI or SSRI benefits (or before dying).

Benefit Amount

The CDB benefit for the child of a disabled or retired worker is 50% of the parent's benefit amount. The CDB benefit for the child of a deceased worker is 75% of the parent's benefit amount. If both parents are insured and either disabled, retired or deceased, the child's benefit amount will be calculated based upon the higher account of the two parents.

In some cases the CDB benefit may be reduced by the Family Maximum Amount (FMA). This is a cap on the total benefits that the Social Security Administration will pay to the family, including the insured worker, the spouse and other children if applicable. The FMA cap is usually between 150% to 200% of the insured worker's benefit amount.

Typically the CDB benefit is higher than the SSI benefit amount ($698 for 2012). Unlike SSI there is no asset limit for the CDB benefit. If the CDB benefit is less than the SSI benefit amount, a child could receive both SSI and CDB to bring the total monthly income up to the SSI benefit amount plus an additional $20 ($718 for 2012).

The child will be eligible for Medicare 24 months from when the CDB benefits began, so the earliest a child could receive Medicare based upon the parent's account would be age 20.

Medicaid and CDB Benefits

If a child was receiving SSI and Medicaid at the time the child qualified for CDB, they can continue to receive Medicaid as long as the child's assets remain below the Medicaid asset limit. Medicaid will not count the CDB income in calculating if the child has a co-payment or "spend down” for medical coverage for most Medicaid programs.

Disability Standard

The standard to be considered "disabled” by the Social Security Administration is the same as to qualify for SSDI benefits. The Social Security Administration must agree that the child was unable to work for at least the next 12 months in standard gainful employment. In assessing disability the Social Security Administration takes into account the person's age, education, and prior work history. Substantial gainful employment occurs if the child earns gross income of at least $1,010 per month ($1,690 if blind) for 2012. This amount is adjusted annually.

In some cases it can be difficult to prove that the child was disabled before age 22, especially if they did not apply for SSI and Medicaid benefits before that age. School records and medical records can be important to establish the date of disability in many cases.

For the CDB it is important that the child be continuously disabled before age 22. If for example, a child worked in substantial gainful employment for a year after graduating from high school and then applied for CDB benefits at age 20, they will not meet the requirement of being continuously disabled before age 22. If a child is receiving CDB benefits, however, and is then able to work after age 22, they can reapply for CDB benefits if they cannot maintain employment. If a child is able to work successfully at substantial gainful employment and is earning sufficient income the Social Security Administration may eventually terminate the CDB benefit on the basis that the child is no longer disabled.


The following are a few brief examples of the CDB program:

  • Sally is 35 when her father, Tom, retires from Boeing. Sally has been diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy since birth. At age 18 Sally qualified for SSI and Medicaid benefits because of her disabilities. Tom's SSRI benefit is $1700 per month. Sally will be eligible for one half of that amount or $850 per month. (The combination of Sally's benefit amount and Tom's do not hit the FMA so Sally's benefit amount is not reduced).

    Sally will not longer receive SSI of $698 per month when her CDB starts. She will start receiving Medicare two years after her CDB benefit starts. As long as Sally's assets remain below $2000 she can keep her Medicaid benefits with no spend down or co-payment even though her income exceeds the Medicaid spend down limit of $698 (Medically Needy Income Level or MNIL) unless Sally is in a group home or medical institution paid by Medicaid.

  • Sally's father dies when she is 40. Her CDB will increase to $1,275 or 75% of Tom's benefit at the time of his death.

  • Sally is able to work for two years and earns sufficient income so that she cannot keep her CDB income. After two years her health problems prevent her from continuing to work. She can be re-instated in the CDB program when her employment ends.

  • Sally marries Jack when she is 45. Jack is not retired or disabled so he is not receiving any social security benefits. Sally will permanently lose her CDB benefit when she marries Jack. If Jack was also disabled and receiving SSDI benefits himself then she could keep her eligibility for CDB benefits.

  • Tim is paralyzed from an auto accident when he is 22. Because he was not disabled before age 22 he will never qualify for CDB on his parent's account when his parent retires or dies.

Where to Apply

You apply for CDB benefits through the Social Security Administration. You can call them at 1-800-772-1213. You can also get more information on the CDB program from the Social Security Administration's web site at