Summary: About 8 to 9 percent of children in the United States have a relatively serious disability. Families caring for these children are more likely to experience various economic hardships than other families with children, even when their incomes are the same. Recent research finds that costs associated with raising a disabled child, including lost parental income, average at least $6,150 a year. Costs at the high end, which are more likely to reflect the subset of disabled children who are most impaired, are around $20,000 a year.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI)—run by the Social Security Administration, but separate from the Social Security program—offsets some of these costs and helps parents provide the basics that children with disabilities need to thrive and become successful adults. In 2012, the maximum monthly SSI supplement was $698 and the average amount received by child beneficiaries was $619. About 1.3 million low-income children with disabilities—fewer than 1 in 4 children with disabilities—received SSI in August 2012. This relatively low number is mostly due to SSI’s means-test and strict disability standard. Recent research finds that SSI increases family economic security, reduces reliance on food stamps and other means-tested assistance, and does not reduce parental employment. Even during the Great Recession, nearly half of children on SSI had a working parent. Because SSI is gradually reduced as parents’ earnings increase, the program supports work among families with disabled children. Between 2000 and 2012, the number of children assisted by SSI increased from 847,000 to 1.3 million. The increase is due almost exclusively to an increase in the number of low-income children as their parents lost jobs and earnings during the Great Recession. Federal expenditures on SSI for children are projected to decline as a share of gross domestic product (GDP) going forward.