If you're disabled and collecting Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), your dependent child can also collect Social Security benefits. The child doesn't need to be disabled to qualify. But the child must be:
The amount of your child's benefit is directly related to the amount of your SSDI benefit. Specifically, it's based on your "earning record." Here's how it works.
When you collect SSDI, your benefit amount is based on your "covered earnings"—income you paid Social Security taxes on, indexed over your lifetime (called your "Average Indexed Monthly Earnings" or AIME).
A dependent child receiving a child's benefit based on the Social Security earnings record of a parent is eligible for up to 50% of the parent's monthly benefit. So, the higher your AIME is (as the disabled parent), the higher your child's monthly SSDI benefit will be.
For example, let's say you're a disabled parent whose AIME was $3,000 per month. You might receive an SSDI check for around $1,500 per month, and your child might get about $750 per month. If you earned twice as much money while working, you might have an AIME of $6,000 per month and receive a disability check for about $2,500 per month. In that case, your child could get a benefit of around $1,250 per month.
But suppose more than one family member is receiving Social Security benefits based on your earnings record (as the disabled person). In that case, your children's benefits will be subject to a family maximum (see below) and reduced according to the SSA's formula.
A dependent minor child whose parent died while receiving SSDI disability benefits (or whose parent had earned enough Social Security credits to qualify for benefits at death) is eligible for a survivors benefit. Each dependent child can receive as much as 75% of the parent's monthly benefit amount, up to the family maximum.
Even after your child becomes an adult (18 or older), if their disability started before age 22, they can collect dependents benefits as well. In that case, your disabled child's benefits would be based on your AIME rather than on the child's own earnings record, which might not exist or might not have enough work credits. (For more information, see our article on disabled adult child benefits.)
Some disabled children also qualify for SSI benefits (Supplemental Security Income), which usually provide significantly lower payments than SSDI.
If more than one of your family members receives a monthly cash benefit while you're getting a monthly SSDI check, the total amount your family can receive is subject to a maximum family benefit (MFB) cap. When the amount of a disabled parent's SSDI benefit is added to the amount of the benefits for two or more children (or one child and an eligible spouse), the total is often more than the maximum family benefit limit.
The MFB is different in each case, but it's typically 150% of the disabled parent's SSDI benefit amount. Note that your SSDI benefits (as the disabled parent or the "claimant") won't ever be reduced because a family member applies for dependents benefits. (So a divorced parent responsible for paying child support has no reason to object to a child applying for the child's benefit.)
If you're a disabled parent, four rules govern your maximum family benefit:
If the total amount of benefits payable to all your family members goes over the MFB, each person's benefit is reduced proportionately (except yours, as the disabled parent) until the total amount of all family members' benefits equals the family maximum. So, your minor child might receive less than 50% of your benefit amount if the family maximum applies.
The SSA will calculate your child's benefit amount using your AIME and PIA (monthly benefit amount) and then determine the amount of your child's monthly benefit check. The SSA will then reduce it if the total amount of your benefits plus the benefits for your children and spouse together go over the family maximum.
You can apply by phone or get help applying by calling the SSA office at 800-772-1213 (TTY 800-325-0778) from 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. You'll need the following information to apply:
If you're seeking benefits for a disabled child through SSI or the disabled adult child program, you'll also need to furnish medical evidence to prove the child's disability.
For more information about applying for Social Security Disability Insurance, including child benefits, see Nolo's Guide to Social Security Disability.