Applying for SSI – Part 1

As our son endured his senior year in high school, it became apparent that he was unlikely to get a job – any kind of job – nor did he show any interest in further schooling or training. That’s when the idea of applying for SSI was first suggested.

What is SSI? It stands for Supplemental Security Income, and is administered by the Social Security Administration – a federal agency you may have heard of. SSI is for people who are too disabled, physically and/or mentally, to support themselves and have no other source of income.

I resisted the idea at first. If our son would have a guaranteed income (even if it wasn’t much income), what would that do to his barely-there motivation to find a job? Another consideration was that we are middle class. It would be a burden, but we could continue to support him financially awhile longer at least. Wouldn’t that be a more socially responsible thing to do than adding to the burden on the federal coffers?

What tipped me over the edge, to at least apply for SSI, was learning that only people collecting SSI were eligible for certain community programs to help the disabled. We wanted to encourage independence as much as possible. As one person in a local program (Rolling Start) bluntly told me, “Your son is only one car crash away from losing you.” Like parents of young adults without disabilities, our job is to be there for them, but not to be the only support available as they find their way in the world.

Around the time I was sorting through these decisions, two well-meaning, knowledgable people independently told me to apply for SSI before Nathan turned 18.  They said it took about six months for the application to be processed. By getting a head start, he could be collecting SSI shortly after he turned 18.

Okay, that made sense. I started the application process several months before Nathan’s 18th birthday. The Social Security website was a little fuzzy about this, and I got conflicting info from 2 different customer service representatives at the toll-free number, but eventually I got an appointment at our local Social Security office. I spent hours filling out paperwork and gathering  supporting evidence and showed up ready to proceed.

The only problem was, I had been misinformed. YOU CAN’T APPLY FOR ADULT SSI UNTIL THE APPLICANT IS 18. The only way it might work to apply beforehand is if your family is low income; SSI is available to help such families whose child is disabled. My 2-hour appointment was over in 10 minutes.

I hung on to the paperwork, updating it as necessary as Nathan’s birthday approached. I believe you can make an appointment a month in advance; that is, I was able to call in July to schedule an appointment for August, the month of his birthday.

A couple of pointers:

  • Any time you call Social Security, have all relevant Social Security numbers and birthdates handy. Be prepared to wait a good chunk of time before someone helps you. Once your son or daughter has turned 18, he or she may need to be on the phone at least for a little bit, to give their permission for you to discuss their case with SSA personnel.
  • Many of the forms you need are available online at the website ( The approval process goes a little faster if you fill out forms online and electronically submit them. (If you bring hard-copy forms to the appointment, a clerk at some point will be spending time inputting the information into their system.) However, I do remember getting stuck in a couple of “loops” while filling out the forms online. Allow extra time for figuring your way out! (Or, maybe the system works better now?)
  • Everyone I’ve dealt with at Social Security has been polite, patient, and professional. Surprise! Nice surprise!


About janet565

I've lived in the Inland Empire of Southern California since 1982. My profession involves maps and geography. I hope you find the blog useful, and wish you well....

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