Caring for disabled loved ones can sometimes place a financial strain on families. The United States provides some financial assistance to disabled children and adults through SSI or supplemental security income. Applying for funds is an administrative process that requires patience, paperwork, and time.


Before diving into the process, it’s important to understand different terms that you may encounter during this process.

The focus of this blog is supplemental security income (SSI), which is a need-based program administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA). Under this program, the SSA provides monthly income to disabled children and adults of all ages, as well as adults who are over 65. SSI is a subcategory of assistance provided as part of the national social security program. Other social security subcategories include:

  • Retirement benefits
  • Health insurance for aged and disabled people (Medicaid), and
  • State grants providing health insurance to low income citizens (Medicare).

Approximately 20% of Americans receive social security benefits of some kind.

Social security disability insurance (SSDI) is an entirely different program that is only available to adult workers who are injured on the job. These disability benefits are available to adults younger than 65 and are funded through federal payroll taxes.

Eligibility for SSI

In order to receive SSI, you must meet strict eligibility requirements. First, you must be 65 or younger, blind, or otherwise disabled. Qualified disabilities include:

  • Asthma and COPD
  • Neurological disorders, such as  multiple sclerosis, and cerebral palsy
  • Lupus
  • Cancer, and
  • Kidney disease.

Second, you must be a lawful resident or citizen of the United States and reside in the US.

Finally, there is a limitation on both income and resources. In Arizona, countable income is based on a calculation of earned and unearned income. To receive benefits, an individual must have less than $2,000 in available resources.

In Arizona, the maximum monthly benefit available to a single person is currently $771.

Applying for SSI

There are a number of steps you must go through in order to receive SSI. From start to finish, the process can take more than six months for a decision, and longer if your application is initially denied.

Preparing paperwork

The best way to increase your chances of success the first time you apply is to get your paperwork in order. The more details you can provide, the better. You will need to include:

  • Identifying information for your child and yourself, including names, addresses, and social security numbers.
  • Contact information for someone who can verify your child’s disability
  • Information about your child’s condition, including when it began and how it affects your child’s day-to-day activities
  • Education and work history for the past years, if applicable, including the results of recent behavioral tests
  • A detailed medical history, including the names and addresses of all doctors and therapists who have either diagnosed or treated your child’s disability, as well as information regarding all prescription and OTC medication.

Filling out the online Child Disability Report helps you get all your paperwork in one place. While it may seem daunting to collect all this information, it’s important to note that you aren’t in it alone. You can, and should, work with your child’s teachers – especially their high school teachers, if they attended school – as well as their doctors, physical therapists, and behavioral therapists, if appropriate.

You should ask teachers for:

  • IEP plans
  • Developmental evaluations, and
  • Other educational tests your child took.

You should ask doctors for:

  • Dates and outcomes of medical tests and diagnoses
  • Hospital records, including intake and discharge dates, and
  • Prescriptions, including instructions on how and when to administer them.

Don’t forget to ask for receipts detailing the cost of administering these exams, visiting doctors and therapists, and paying for prescriptions – this is relevant evidence that can demonstrate the need for assistance.

You should also be sure to provide enough contact information for all doctors, hospitals, and therapists so that the SSA will be able to get in touch to verify all the paperwork you provide.

Finally, as you gather this paperwork, you should provide a very clear description of your child’s physical and mental condition. While it’s important to be medically accurate in this description, this is the time for you as a parent to explain how this disability affects your child’s life. Consider describing:

  • Your child’s daily routine – do they need assistance using the toilet, taking a shower, or getting dressed?
  • Their mobility – do they require assistance to move around?
  • Their learning ability, especially in cases with IQ below 75
  • Any behavioral issues they face – how frequently and severe are outbursts?
  • Their ability to communicate – can they speak or respond to others?
  • Their inability to be independent – this is especially important to discuss if your child is extremely dependent on other, able-bodied members of your household.

It’s extremely important to be as thorough as possible in making your case to the SSA as to why these benefits are necessary. This isn’t the time to sugarcoat details of your child’s life – it’s important to be realistic in explaining how this disability affects both your child and the rest of your household.

Using a binder or some other filing system can help you get organized and prepare for your interview.

Interview with the Social Security Administration

In addition to preparing documents, you will need to schedule an interview with your local SSA. When you call to schedule the interview, you will need to answer some questions regarding your child, so have the paperwork you prepared handy. When you schedule your interview, make sure to confirm which documents you should bring, and prepare them in advance.

Before you go to the interview, make multiple copies of the paperwork. You may need to provide copies to the person interviewing you, and you will need to keep at least one copy of everything for yourself. Knowing where your papers are can help you feel more confident and prepared during the interview. You should also bring a notebook and a pen to take notes during the interview.

When you attend the interview, be prepared to answer questions about your child’s financial situation – the person you are meeting with has a series of questions they need to ask in order to determine whether your child is eligible for benefits and to determine how much benefit they can receive.

If during the interview, you are asked to provide additional documentation, you should get that together promptly. The faster you can get the required paperwork, the quicker you will receive a decision.

Appealing denials

Unfortunately, denials are not uncommon when it comes to SSI applications. This could be because applicants did not have their paperwork prepared before the interview, or did not provide necessary documents after meeting with the SSA.

If you are denied, don’t panic! The denial letter will lay out the next steps, which can begin with filing an application for reconsideration. This could be as simple as resubmitting your paperwork, including additional details explaining why the original denial was incorrect. You may need to get further evidence from your child’s teachers or doctors as well.

If your request for reconsideration is denied, you can request a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge to argue your case for SSI benefits.

This article does not provide legal advice, nor does it form an attorney-client relationship. It is for informational purposes only. If you have questions regarding SSI in Arizona and procedures, please contact me today.