The Disability Law Center




How Can My Child's Retroactive 
SSI Benefits Be Used?

What are Retroactive SSI Benefits?   

It sometimes takes months or even years for Social Security to approve a child for SSI (Supplemental Security Income) disability benefits. When the SSI application is approved, the SSI payments can go back to the month after the month you applied. These months of back payments are called retroactive benefits. 

For example, if you applied for your child’s SSI in January 2003 and Social Security approved the application a year later, the retroactive benefits would go back to February, 2003.

There are strict rules about using retroactive SSI children’s benefits and they are different from the rules for using regular monthly SSI payments.

Where Should I Put My Child’s Retroactive SSI Benefits?       

Larger retroactive awards of SSI benefits to children must be put in a special separate bank account called a dedicated account. Only the child’s retroactive SSI benefits may be put into this account.  It must be a savings, checking or money market account.  The money in the dedicated account does not count toward the SSI asset limit.

Click here to see Social Security's rules about setting up a dedicated account.

What Can the Money in the Dedicated Account Be Used For?   

The money must be used for things or services that benefit the child and are related to the child’s disability. Here are a few examples:

  • Special equipment, services, treatment or therapies that the child needs because of her medical condition. This includes appliances related to the child’s disability such as an air conditioner for a child with asthma.
  • Home repairs (such as building a ramp) to make the home accessible to the child or to fix problems that are bad for the child’s health.
  • Respite care for parents, a reasonably priced car if needed to take a child to medical treatment, and moving expenses when the need for the move is because of the child’s medical condition. 
  • Repairing or replacing furniture the child destroys because of his disability.

IN EMERGENCIES, dedicated account money can be used for housing and food to prevent the child from becoming homeless or malnourished.

This is not the whole list.  Any expense that is related to the child’s disability and which benefits the child may be appropriate.   Click here to see Social Security's rules about using money in dedicated accounts.

Do I Need to Get Social Security’s Permission Before I Spend Money from the Dedicated Account?                                                     

No, but if you are not sure that what you plan to buy is OK under Social Security’s rules, it is a good idea to ask Social Security to approve it ahead of time. To get Social Security’s approval, you will need to show how the purchase you want to make is related to the child’s disability. It often helps to have a letter from the child’s doctor or therapist explaining why the child needs the item or service. Social Security must tell you in writing whether or not they approve the purchase. If Social Security does not approve, you can appeal their decision.

Does Social Security Check On How I’ve Spent the Dedicated Account Money?                                           

Yes. Every year Social Security will ask you to fill out a form about how you have spent the dedicated account money. You will also have to report on how you have spent the child’s regular monthly SSI benefits. Social Security will want proof, so it is very important for you to keep bank statements, receipts, and written records of what you spent the money on. You should also be able to explain how each expense is related to your child’s disability.

What if I Don’t Use the Dedicated Account Money According to Social Security’s Rules?     

If you, as the child’s payee, knowingly spend the dedicated account money on things that are not related to the child’s disability, you might have to repay the money to Social Security. Social Security calls this misapplying the money. If Social Security claims that you misapplied the dedicated account money, you have the right to fight that decision by filing an appeal.

How Can I Use My Child’s Regular Monthly SSI Benefits?    

The child’s regular monthly SSI benefits can be used for more kinds of items and services than the retroactive benefits in the dedicated account. You do not have to spend the child’s monthly SSI benefits only on things related to her disability. The main rule is that you must spend the child’s monthly SSI benefits in the best interest of the child. This could include disability-related needs, but also includes ordinary living expenses like the child’s part of the family’s food and housing cost, as well as clothing, school supplies, and other items needed by the child. As with dedicated accounts, Social Security will review your use of the child’s monthly SSI benefits, so it is important to keep records.

For more information, call or email the Disability Law Center.

 (617)723-8455 or (800)872-9992. TTY (617)227-9464 or (800)381-0577,

You can also get more information on Social Security’s website and the Massachusetts Legal Services website.   

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