Three Steps and You’re Out: The Misuse of the Sequential Evaluation Process in Child SSI Disability Determinations

The federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program provides cash benefits to financially needy persons who are 65 years of age or older, blind, or disabled. It also provides cash benefits to children with disabilities under the age of 18. This Article examines three sets of regulatory efforts to implement special disability standards for children, based first on the original SSI legislation, then on a seminal Supreme Court decision, and finally on amendments to the Social Security Act overruling the Court’s decision, and shows how the “sequential evaluation process,” which has been useful for adjudicating adult disability claims, has been a counterproductive force in the child’s SSI program. It then suggests how the Social Security Administration might meet the program’s goals more effectively by breaking with the sequential evaluation model and replacing it with a unique disability determination process for children.