Financial Assistance for Parents of Special Needs Children

Parents of children with developmental disabilities have many avenues to find financial assistance. I should know, as my wife and I raised two boys with special needs.

Your youngsters will become young adults one day. Yet, their frailties will continue indefinitely, along with the need to fund never-ending therapies, medical treatments, prescription drugs, and caretaking expenses.

Therefore it is never too soon to learn how to navigate the system. Learn to stretch dollars further and help your offspring reach their full potential.  

Follow the three-part outline to the most crucial supports: government benefits (SSI & Medicaid), compensation for caretakers, and housing assistance.

Federal Benefits Programs

Parents caring for children with special needs often find that two foundational government benefit programs offer essential financial assistance: Supplemental Security Income and Medicaid.


Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is the first government benefit to help parents when caring for a child with a developmental disability. SSI provides monthly cash payments to eligible recipients, with qualifying criteria that change at age 18.

Apply for SSI through the Social Security Administration (SSA)

SSI Under 18

Some low-income parents caring for a child under 18 with a developmental disability might immediately qualify for SSI benefits if they meet two criteria.

  1. Your youngster meets the childhood disability definition
    1. Low-birth weight
    1. Failure to Thrive (Developmental Delay)
  2. Countable household income is below the deeming threshold
    1. Earned
    1. Unearned
    1. In-kind
    1. Deemed

SSI at Age 15

Parents of any income level caring for a child with a disability should begin preparing for SSI benefits no later than their teenager’s fifteenth birthday. You do not want to jeopardize eligibility inadvertently.

Transfer any resources in your child’s name to another person or special needs trust. Social Security establishes a three-year look-back period on these assets. For instance, those savings bonds that friends and family members gave as gifts you filed in a shoebox could bite you.

Establish a special needs trust before your child reaches adulthood to preserve eligibility for needs-based government benefits such as SSI and Medicaid, which have resource limits. The trust enables you to accumulate assets without holding them in the beneficiary’s name.

SSI Over 18

More parents caring for a child over 18 with a disability can take advantage of SSI because their household countable income no longer reduces the benefits to zero through deeming. Now, they only consider the earnings of your young adult.

Apply for SSI when your child turns 18, knowing that the parent’s income no longer matters. The monthly benefit check offers meaningful financial assistance. Plus, if eligible, your young adult automatically qualifies for Medicaid.


Medicaid is the second government benefit that might help parents when caring for a child with a developmental disability. Medicaid eligibility rules also change at age 18, and the program might provide four types of financial support over time.

  1. Free health insurance for the family
  2. Free dental insurance for the household
  3. Funding of day programs for special needs adults
  4. Compensation for family caretakers (see below)

Medicaid Under 18

Medicaid is a crucial government benefit for low-income parents caring for a disabled child under 18 who cannot afford proper medical and dental treatment.

Apply for Medicaid coverage knowing that projected income is the qualifying criteria, not what the household earned last year or in recent months. Sometimes, caretaking duties run in cycles. If your child’s medical condition or behavioral issues flare up, one parent may have to cut back on work hours or quit their job.

Medicaid Over 18

Medicaid is a critical government benefit for all parents caring for an adult child (over 18) because it offers financial assistance beyond medical treatment and dental work.

  • Medicaid funds day programs for adults with special needs in many states. The yellow bus might stop picking up your child daily to take them to a public school once they surpass their 21st birthday.
  • Medicaid sometimes pays family members to care for disabled adults in their homes. Each state determines what benefits to offer, if any. See below for details.

SSI recipients automatically qualify for Medicaid, so apply for this benefit first. Ensure you do not jeopardize eligibility by holding more than $2,000 in countable resources and establishing a special needs trust.

States Paying Parents

Out of necessity, we must divide our list of states paying parents to care for a disabled child at home into two age groups: those under eighteen and those entering adulthood. Medicaid eligibility drives long-term benefits.

Young Children

Fewer states pay parents to care for their children (under 18) with disabilities when the family earns too much money to qualify for Medicaid.

Government money for stay-at-home mothers might prove to be a more fruitful angle than chasing after temporary compensation available through paid family leave and unemployment programs.

Paid Family Leave

Several states compensate parents for caring for a young child with a disability through Paid Family Leave programs. Eligible mothers and fathers can briefly take time off from work without losing all their income.

Below are the states offering paid family leave to care for a child with a serious health condition.

MarylandMassachusettsNew Jersey
New YorkRhode IslandWashington

Unemployment Insurance

Several states compensate parents for caring for their young child with a developmental disability through unemployment insurance. However, eligibility for the program is strict, and the benefits typically last for six months or less.

To qualify for unemployment benefits, you must have lost your job, be available for work, and actively seek new employment. Your state’s “good cause reason to quit” must include caring for a family member with a serious medical condition.

In other words, you might be eligible to collect unemployment after your caretaking duties cease. Below is a sampling of states with amenable good cause definitions.

IllinoisMinnesotaNew York
OregonRhode IslandSouth Carolina

Adult Children

More states pay parents to care for adult children with disabilities. Their kids become eligible for Medicaid on their 18th birthday, which covers long-term services and support.

Many states offer personal care services to Medicaid recipients to facilitate their staying at home rather than in an institutional setting. The initiatives help control Medicaid spending.

Below is a sampling of links to the state programs that may support long-term compensation for family members tending to the needs of others under age 65.

Texas Community Care ServicesNew York Consumer Directed Personal Assistance
Georgia Community Care ServicesNorth Carolina Community Alternatives
Michigan Choice Waiver ProgramNew Jersey Personal Preference Program
Virginia Coordinated Care PlusWashington State Community First Choice
Arizona Self-Directed Attendant CareMassachusetts In-Home Services

Many other states pay parents to care for their adult children with special needs under a Medicaid waiver program. The two resources listed below can help you find benefits in your state.

Housing Assistance Programs

Housing assistance is a critical resource for parents with disabled children because rent and mortgage payments are families’ most significant monthly expenses.

The parents of children with special needs often sacrifice their career aspirations, meaning they might qualify for these government-sponsored housing programs aimed at low-income households.

Housing Grants

Housing grants for families with disabled children are available to low-income households. Many parents of kids with special needs qualify because they must reduce work hours.

Please remember that the federal government does not award grants to individuals or families except those looking to buy a house for the first time. Instead, the free money typically flows to state agencies and non-profit organizations to foster a public good.

Apply for the appropriate grant through the recipient agency.

Home Modifications

Housing assistance for families with a disabled child can also mean financial help with home modifications. The IRS offers tax breaks for medically necessary adaptations, giving you three ways to take advantage.

  1. Schedule A: Deductible Medical and Dental Expenses
  2. Flexible Spending Account (FSA)
  3. Health Savings Account (HSA)

Have your doctor write a note prescribing each specific modification and file it in a safe place before incurring any expenses. Consult your tax advisor before taking a deduction.

Cerebral Palsy Housing

Housing assistance for families with a child with cerebral palsy might rely on government programs for low-income households plus IRS tax breaks for applicable home modifications.

Your doctor might prescribe many of these adaptations for your child with cerebral palsy.

Autistic Housing

Government programs for low-income households provide housing assistance for families with autistic children. Now supplement this help with IRS tax breaks for needed modifications.

Your doctor might prescribe several adaptations for your child with an autism spectrum disorder.

  • Removal of fluorescent lighting and replacement with softer LED
  • Upgrading blinds and shades to control outdoor light intensity
  • Install surveillance technologies to alleviate intrusion anxiety
  • Mount soundproof panels and curtains to minimize noises
  • Deploy alarm systems and locks to prevent wandering