Government Assistance Programs for Premature Babies

Having a premature baby can likely cause a financial burden, especially for low-income parents. First, you might need to put your child in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). NICU care costs are expensive compared to standard newborn care, exceeding $3,500 per infant per day

Second, one parent will likely be forced to extend parental leave to care for the baby, which might reduce the family’s household income. Therefore, some parents will typically rely on government assistance for premature babies to cover the hospital bills and provide for their families.

In this article, we will explore some government assistance programs for premature babies you might qualify for. 

Federal Grants for Premature Babies 

No federal agency specifically gives grants to parents of premature babies. However, since NICU parents typically stop working and lose wages, they might be eligible for some government programs that offer financial assistance to low-income families with premature babies. Additionally, NICU babies might qualify for some benefits for children with disabilities.

However, if you struggle to make ends meet, the federal government offers grants to low-income earners. This can include discount vouchers and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP or Food Stamps). You might also find help with home repairs, appliance replacement, HVAC upgrades, phone expenses, utility bills, and more.

SSI for Premature Babies

The Federal Income Benefits Program of the Social Security Administration (SSA) provides income support to adults and children with disabilities. Infants born with certain health conditions may send them to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), making them eligible for supplemental security income (SSI) benefits. Premature babies are often born with these health conditions and hence making The SSI is the most direct form of government-sponsored financial help for premature babies.

If you have a premature baby, the maximum you will receive from SSI is $841 monthly. SSI will only pay this amount when you bring your child home from the hospital or NICU. While you are in the hospital, SSI will pay $30 monthly. 

Qualifying for SSI has some caveats. First, your infant must meet health criteria; second, your income will be considered. SSI is specifically meant for families with a combined total income below or near the poverty level. This means you must submit a W-2 or Federal tax return for each adult in the household that works full-time to prove their income. 

Your SSI income can diminish to zero if you don’t meet the eligibility criteria. 

SSI Eligibility Requirements For Premature Babies 

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As discussed above, SSI provides income for people with disability. Therefore, for a premature baby to qualify for SSI, it must first meet the childhood disability definition. 

A child with a disability has one of the following conditions:

  • Low Birth Weight: If your child weighs less than 2 pounds, 10 ounces at birth, they automatically qualify for SSI and will start receiving the benefits immediately. Birth weight is the first weight recorded after birth.
  • Low birth weight for their gestational age: Gestational age is the infant’s age based on the date of conception as recorded in the medical record. If your child weighs less for their gestational age, they qualify for SSI. The SSI uses the following table to determine if a child is underweight for the gestational age. 
Gestational AgeBirth Weight for SSI Eligibility
37–40 weeks< 4 pounds, 6 ounces (2,000 grams)
36 weeks< 4 pounds, 2 ounces (1,875 grams)
35 weeks< 3 pounds, 11 ounces (1,700 grams)
34 weeks< 3 pounds, 4 ounces (1,500 grams)
33 weeks< 2 pounds, 14 ounces (1,325 grams)
32 weeks< 2 pounds 12 ounces (1,250 grams)
Any age< 2 pounds, 10 ounces (1,200 grams)
  • Failure to Thrive (FTT): This is characterized by growth failure and developmental delay between birth and age 3. A child has FTT if they are not gaining as much weight as expected during infancy. According to the SSI website, an FTT child has less than the third percentile on the appropriate BMI for age.

If your child meets the eligibility requirements, complete an SSI application online at SSA.gov to start the application process. Alternatively, you can visit your local social security office or call the SSA at 1-800-772-1213.

How Long Can A Premature Baby Receive SSI Benefits?

You will continue to receive SSI benefits for as long as your child’s weight is below the age-appropriate weight. Once the child is in a positive developmental stage, the benefits will expire. 

For low-weight children, the benefits expire after their first birthday. If your child is still underweight, the government will review their status and eligibility, and they will continue receiving benefits if they are not developing as expected. This will continue until the next review cycle. 

For FTT children, they will continue receiving benefits until they attain the age of 3. This will be subject to annual review as well. If your child meets other childhood disability definitions, they will continue receiving benefits until they’re 18. 

PS: SSI benefits are meant for low-income families. If you start earning more, the benefits will reduce or end altogether.

PSS: During the review cycle, you might be required to show how you spend the SSI benefits. The Social Security Administration (SSA) requires you to submit a form detailing these expenses annually; therefore, ensure that you are spending the SSI money in a way that benefits your child and keep receipts.

Other Government Assistance for Premature Babies

Apart from SSI, you and your baby might qualify for other financial assistance from the government, including:

  • Women Infants Children: This is the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children offered by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). It provides federal funds to support low-income mothers and nutritionally at-risk babies and children up to age 5. Check the USDA prescreening tool to see if you qualify for WIC.
  • Medicaid: The nation’s public health insurance program provides health coverage for low-income Americans, including premature babies. If you were already on Medicaid, your child becomes automatically eligible for Medicaid. Additionally, qualifying for SSI automatically makes your baby eligible for Medicaid in 35 states
  • The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP): CHIP is a low-cost insurance program that covers medical and dental expenses for children from families who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford private insurance. Premature babies often require specialized medical care, which can be expensive. CHIP can help these families access care and treatment for their premature babies without significant financial burdens. 

Non-governmental Assistance for Premature Babies 

Apart from the government assistance programs for premature babies, there are some Diagnosis-Based Assistance Programs for Premature Babies that your child might be eligible for. The main ones that serve the whole country include:

  • Drive to Thrive Support Program: Provides financial support through discount vouchers, coupons, rebates, and informational support to parents of premature babies after they leave the NICU.
  • Graham’s Foundation: They support premature babies and their families with care packages from comfort items to gift cards.
  • Lily’s Hope: This organization provides care packages to families with premature babies.
  • Miracle Babies: They provide financial assistance to low-income families with a baby(s) in the NICU.
  • Project Sweet Peas – Care Packages: This program provides care packages to parents of premature children receiving inpatient care in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Special Care Unit, or a Specialty Pediatric Hospital.
  • The Gift of Life: They supply care packages to low-income families during and after the NICU stay to help ensure they have the emotional support and supplies they need.
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