Social Security Benefits for Your Premature Baby

Parent touching head of a premature baby in incubator
cdwheatley / Getty Images

If your baby was born premature, they might be eligible to receive social security benefits. Though it's usually modest, this monthly stipend may help defray the added costs of having a preemie, including your baby's hospital stay, other medical bills, and child care once home.

The type of social security benefits that premature babies can receive is called supplemental security income, or SSI. The Social Security Administration provides SSI benefits for any disabled child, and some preemies with low birth weight or developmental delays are eligible.

SSI Eligibility for Preemies

Simply being born prematurely doesn't qualify your child for social security benefits. To be eligible for SSI, a baby must have one of the following conditions:

  • Low weight at birth: Any baby who weighs less than 2 pounds, 10 ounces at birth qualifies for SSI.
  • Low birth weight for their gestational age: Babies who are very small for their gestational age—what age they are from conception, not birth—can qualify for SSI. For example, a full-term baby, born between 37 and 40 weeks, still qualifies for SSI if they weigh less than 4 pounds, 6 ounces at birth.
 Gestational Age Birth Weight for SSI Eligibility
37–40 weeks < 4 pounds, 6 ounces
36 weeks < 4 pounds, 2 ounces
35 weeks < 3 pounds, 11 ounces
34 weeks < 3 pounds, 4 ounces
33 weeks < 2 pounds, 14 ounces
32 weeks < 2 pounds 12 ounces
Any age < 2 pounds, 10 ounces
  • Growth failure combined with a developmental delay between birth and age 3: Some preemies exhibit a "failure to thrive," meaning they are not gaining as much weight as expected during the newborn period and infancy. If your baby's weight or body mass index (BMI) is below the third percentile for other babies at the same height between birth and age 3, they may be able to receive SSI.

Benefit Amount for Preemies

Payments for SSI are sent monthly. While your baby is in the hospital, the maximum social security SSI benefit you can receive is $30 per month. The benefit amount may change when your baby is healthy enough to go home.

After your baby is discharged, the amount of benefit you receive will depend on your family income and how many other children you have. It will also vary by state as some states supplement SSI with additional payments. Recent data show that the average SSI monthly payment that the federal government provides to families of children with any disability is around $690.

It's important to know that your baby is not likely to be eligible for SSI if your family earns a substantial combined income. Children receiving SSI are usually from families with a total income below or near the poverty level.

How to Apply for Social Security Benefits

If you think your baby may qualify for SSI benefits, you should apply as soon as you are able. Although it can take up to three to five months for the Social Security Administration to decide eligibility for most children with disabilities, it will grant SSI immediately to families of babies who weigh less than 2 lbs 10 oz at birth. However, other preemies with low birth weight or babies with growth failure after birth won't receive SSI payments until the application and review processes are complete.

Your infant’s birth weight must be documented by an original or certified copy of the birth certificate or in a medical record signed by a physician. If your child fails to grow as expected and has developmental delays, it's important to collect and submit regular doctor's records with your application.

To apply for SSI benefits, you can visit your local social security office or call the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213. Also, don't hesitate to check if the hospital where you delivered your baby can help; many neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) have representatives who are pros at guiding parents through the SSI application process.

If you have applied for and received immediate SSI relief for your baby with low birth weight and it's determined that your baby doesn't meet all the requirements for disability benefits, after all, you won't have to pay back any payments you received to that point.

Expiration of SSI Benefits for Preemies

Parents should know that SSI payments are intended to expire when a child is on an age-appropriate weight and development track. As welcome as a little monthly financial boost is when you're caring for a baby with medical issues, the Social Security Administration's decision to discontinue payments is likely recognition of something positive: Your child's attainment of or return to good health.

If your baby receives SSI for low weight at birth, the government will review their health status and eligibility again around their first birthday. If your child isn't gaining weight or developing as expected, benefits will continue until the next review cycle.

For children who qualify for SSI later due to growth failure and associated developmental delays, benefits personnel will review their health progress and medical records at least every three years to determine eligibility.

If your child receives SSI, you are required to report to the Social Security Administration if you or your co-parent has a change in income. If you start earning more money, your child's benefit payments could be reduced or end altogether.

Be sure to keep track of how you spend your child's SSI payments since the Social Security Administration requires you to submit a form detailing these expenses every year. You must spend the SSI money in ways that specifically benefit your child, such as:

  • Food, shelter, and safety needs (including child care)
  • Medical and dental care not covered by insurance
  • Personal needs, like clothing and enrichment programs.

Other Financial Assistance Programs

If you have a preemie or baby with weight and growth problems and lack private insurance, there are other ways to get some financial relief to help curb costs for their care. These programs include:

  • Medicaid: Depending on the state, a family who qualifies for SSI on behalf of a child may also qualify for Medicaid, a healthcare program for low-income people. Even if your child doesn't qualify for SSI, they might be eligible for Medicaid and other state and local programs. Check with your state Medicaid office and your state or county social services.
  • CHIP: The Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) covers medical and dental costs for millions of kids whose families aren't insured otherwise. You can apply for coverage and find participating doctors on the federal Insure Kids Now website.
  • WIC: Managed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is designed to promote the health of expecting parents along with children up to age 5. To meet WIC eligibility for these monthly food vouchers, families must have an income at or below the poverty line and have demonstrated nutritional needs or deficiencies.
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Article Sources
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  1. Social Security Office of Retirement and Disability Policy. SSI Annual Statistical Report, 2019.

  2. Social Security Administration. Monthly Statistical Snapshot. Released April 2021.

  3. Social Security Administration. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Child Recipient Fact Sheet.

  4. Social Security Administration. Benefits for Children with Disabilities. Published 2021.

  5. Social Security Administration. A Guide for Representative Payees. Published December 2019.