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Financial challenges

Can Kids With Severe Learning Issues Get Government Assistance?

By Patricia H. Latham

My son is severely dyslexic. He has other issues too, and I’m worried about his ability to support himself when he finishes school. Is there some type of government assistance he can get because he has a learning disability?

Patricia H. Latham

Attorney and Author

The answer is maybe. It depends on whether your son qualifies for assistance under certain government programs. The main one is Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

SSI is a federal program that provides money for food, clothing and shelter to people with disabilities. Learning issues could be covered under this program if they’re severe enough. (SSI calls them “learning problems.”)

To qualify, your son has to meet strict requirements. Some of these are financial. SSI is designed to help people with disabilities who have little income or resources.

But income doesn’t just include earnings from work. It also includes unemployment benefits. Even things like owning savings bonds and living rent-free with a relative get factored in.

There are also several medical requirements. And these are slightly different for children than for adults. Is your son is under 18? Then his disability needs to result in “severe functional limitations” for him to get SSI.

Length of time also matters. His impairment needs to have lasted or be expected to last continuously for at least a year.

The rules are similar for someone 18 or older. But the focus isn’t on functional limitations. It’s on earning money from a job. To qualify for SSI, your son would need to be unable to do any “substantial gainful activity” (SGA). This means his average monthly earnings would need to be below a certain amount.

This earnings cap is pretty low. Since the start of 2014, earnings of over $1,070 a month are generally considered to be SGA. (This provision doesn’t apply to people who are blind.)

A person who is approved for SSI may also qualify for Medicaid and for food stamps. But the big takeaway is that to qualify for SSI, your child needs to have a severe impairment and limited income and resources.

The other program I wanted to mention is vocational rehabilitation (VR). This helps people with disabilities get or keep a job. Services may include such things as career counseling, job placement and on-the-job training.

To be eligible, your son’s issues would need to result in his being unable to get or hold a job. There may also be a financial needs test for some VR services. Some people may receive all services at no charge. Other people may have to pay for some services. If your son has an IEP, this kind of vocational training may be discussed as part of his IEP transition planning.

About the Author

Portrait of Pat Latham

Patricia H. Latham is an attorney and mediator and the coauthor of eight books on disability and the law.

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