Being born prematurely does not qualify automatically qualify an infant for SSI disability benefits; the important factor when determining a preemie's eligibility for disability is his or her birth weight when compared to its gestational age (how far along in her pregnancy the mother was when the baby was born).
A baby can also qualify for SSI benefits if he or she meets the childhood disability requirements for a serious medical condition (we discuss the more common problems below).
However, even if a baby meets either the low birth weight or childhood disability criteria, the household income and assets must still be under the threshold required to be eligible for disability.
Low Birth Weight
Infants with low birth weight may be eligible for SSI regardless of their gestational age. Here is the chart that shows the weight/gestational age requirements for SSI.
- An infant born at 37-40 weeks must be 4 pounds, 6 ounces or less.
- An infant born at 36 weeks must be 4 pounds, 2 ounces or less.
- An infant born at 35 weeks must be 3 pounds, 5 ounces or less.
- An infant born at 34 weeks must be 3 pounds, 5 ounces or less.
- An infant born at 33 weeks must be 2 pounds, 15 ounces or less.
If a baby does not qualify for SSI based on low birth weight, he or she may qualify under other childhood disability rules. To be found disabled, the infant must meet the following criteria.
- The baby must have a physical or mental condition (or combination of conditions) that severely limit the baby’s activities, and
- The baby’s condition must last, or be expected to last, at least 12 months or be expected to result in the baby’s death.
If you are unsure whether your baby is eligible for disability, you should contact an experienced disability to discuss your case. Keep in mind it can take several months for the SSA to decide if your baby is eligible for SSI.
Immediate Payment of SSI Benefits
In some cases, you may be able to get immediate benefits for your disabled infant. Here are some of the conditions that qualify for immediate benefits:
- complete blindness
- complete deafness
- cerebral palsy
- Down syndrome
- muscular dystrophy, and
- a birth weight of less than the above limits.
If your child has a disabling condition other than the ones listed above, you should contact the SSA to see if the baby’s condition qualifies him or her for immediate benefits. For more information, read our article on presumptive disability benefits.
The mother of a disabled infant must meet very low asset and income limits to be eligible for SSI. The asset limit is $2,000 for a single person.
The income limits vary depend on a number of factors:
- whether the state where the mother lives provides a state supplement to federal SSI benefits
- how many non-disabled children live with the mother
- whether there are other disabled children living with the mother
- whether the income is earned (through work) or unearned (e.g., through unemployment benefits)
- whether the mother pays support on behalf of a child to another person
- whether the mother gets Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
- whether the mother gets some other need-based pension (for example, through the Veteran’s Administration), and
- whether the infant has its own income.
Visit the SSA’s website to see the detailed chart that outlines income limits for single parents. Also read our how family income is deemed for child recipients for SSI.
The SSA's website will also tell you whether your state provides a supplement to the federal benefits and who to contact if you have questions about how your state deems income for the purposes of eligibility for SSI.
If you already receive benefits for a disabled child and you have another baby, contact the SSA to let them know. Having an additional child will increase your income limit for eligibility. If you are disabled and receiving SSI, your benefits and those of your child will not be affected, but, again, the income limits may change.
Note that single fathers and two parent families may be eligible for SSI for a disabled child.
Help for Children With Special Needs
The Children with Special Health Care Needs Act is a Social Security law that requires states to provide certain support programs for parents of disabled children. Contact the SSA for more information and resources that may be available in your area.
It can also be helpful to discuss your child's case with an experienced disability attorney to get advice on applying for benefits.