18th birthdays are usually a time of celebration and hope for the future.  However, for young people receiving Supplemental Security Income benefits, this otherwise happy time can be tinged with anxiety as they must go through the Social Security Administration’s age-18 redetermination process.

As a Southern Illinois Social Security Disability attorney, I speak to many prospective clients who are receiving Supplemental Security Income benefits and are about to turn 18.  Here are a few key points many people don’t know.

1.  The eligibility requirements for Supplemental Security Income benefits are different for children and adults.

It’s due to this difference that young people who receive Supplemental Security Income benefits must have their cases re-evaluated when they turn 18.

What’s the difference?

Children who received Supplemental Security Income benefits before age 18 had medical or psychological conditions that met or equalled the criteria of a listed impairment or resulted in marked functional limitations in two or more domains of function or an extreme limitation in one domain of function.  The domains of function are:

  • Acquiring and using information;
  • Attending and completing tasks;
  • Interacting and relating with others;
  • Moving about and manipulating objects;
  • Caring for yourself; and,
  • Health and physical well-being.

After age 18, a claimant is found disabled if their medical or psychological impairments meet or equal the criteria of a listed impairment for adults or their impairments prevent them from being able to engage in substantial gainful activity which is basically the ability to earn a certain amount of money each month.  In 2017 that amount of money is $1,170 per month.

Therefore, a child could be receiving Supplemental Security Income benefits for a limitation which, at the time of adulthood, will not limit him or her from being able to work.  In this case, upon turning 18, he or she would no longer be eligible for benefits, even though his or her impairments did not change.

2.  About one-third of children lose their SSI eligibility following the age-18 redetermination.

For the reason listed above, not all young people will continue to receive Supplemental Security Income when they turn 18.

Some impairments are more likely to be result in continuation of benefits.  The author of this article published by the Social Security Administration analyzed thousands of cases involving age 18 redeterminations and concluded:

The diagnostic groups with the highest continuation rates are congenital anomalies (90 percent) followed by diseases of the nervous system and sense organs (88 percent). Disabilities in these two categories are generally more static than the others. Just under one-half of recipients in the “other mental disorders” group (47 percent) are continued, as are those with neoplasms (47 percent) and digestive system diseases (49 percent). Recipients with respiratory system diseases have the lowest continuation rate (25 percent). Several groups are also in the 50 to 60 percent continuation range: endocrine, nutritional, and metabolic diseases (53 percent), skin and subcutaneous tissue diseases (56 percent), and musculoskeletal system and connective tissue diseases (59 percent). Thus, although youth with “other mental disorders” are among the least likely to continue receiving SSI as adults, other diagnostic groups have similar continuation rates.

For persons with mental disorders, the study found:

Diagnoses with higher rates of continuation include autistic disorders and other pervasive development disorders (92 percent), organic mental disorders (62 percent), affective disorders (49 percent), anxiety related disorders (53 percent), somatoform disorders (49 percent), eating and tic disorders (52 percent), and developmental and emotional disorders of newborn and younger infants (59 percent). Similarly, diagnoses with lower rates of continuation include personality disorders (43 percent), conduct disorders (35 percent), oppositional/defiant disorders (36 percent), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (38 percent), learning disorders (41 percent), and borderline intellectual functioning (42 percent).

3.  Supplemental Security Income benefits can continue if you appeal within 10 days.

If your case is being redetermined you will receive a notice. It will explain the process.  If you file the appeal within 10 days of the date you received the notice your SSI benefits will continue until the final decision is made.

It is critical that you cooperate with the process which might include attending a consultative examination with a doctor or psychologist chosen by the Social Security Administration.

4.  18-year olds who work can attend college to preserve their eligibility with the Student Earned Income Exclusion (SEIE).

The SEIE makes it possible for young people under the age of 22 who qualify to have some of their earnings excluded from consideration when SSI eligibility is being determined.  For 2016, the excluded amount is up to $1,780 per month, with a yearly maximum of $7,180.

What this means is that under SEIE, earnings up to the above limits will not affect SSI benefit amounts.

In order to qualify for SEIE, the student must meet at least one of the following conditions:

  • Is enrolled in college or university for at least 8 hours a week under a semester or quarter system
  • Is in 7th-12th grade and attends school for at least 12 hours a week
  • Participates in a training course to prepare for employment for at least 12 hours a week (or 15 hours a week if the course involves shop practice)
  • Does any of the above, but for less time due to reasons beyond the student’s control (such as illness)

Other programs help persons set aside funds for housing, transportation, education without losing their SSI benefits.

If you want more information about these programs you can download this Social Security Administration brochure:

  • Work Incentives Planning and Assistance (WIPA)
  • Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS)
  • An Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) account

If you live in the Southern Illinois area, receive Supplemental Security Income, and you or a member of your family are about to turn 18, understanding the redetermination process will improve your chances of continuing to receive benefits if you are not able to work.

Joni Beth Bailey is a Southern Illinois Social Security Disability representative.