Thousands more disabled children are expected to become eligible for federal benefits under liberalized regulations being issued Monday under a Supreme Court ruling.

For the first time, the government will consider not only children's medical problems but also the effect those conditions have on walking, eating, dressing and other daily activities.The change is expected to add to the Supplemental Security Income program each year as many as 37,000 children with severe physical and mental disabilities that would not previously have qualified them for benefits, officials said. It is effective immediately.

The Supreme Court ordered the change in a ruling issued Feb. 20, 1990, and disability-rights advocates have complained that crafting the regulations has taken too long.

The Health and Human Services Department estimates the new guidelines will cost $2.5 billion to $3.5 billion over the next five years.

"These new rules greatly enhance the protections we can provide to some of our most vulnerable citizens - children with disabilities," HHS Secretary Louis Sullivan said in a statement. He said the regulation "provides rules for children that are equitable to the rules for adults."

About 312,000 needy, disabled children receive SSI benefits, which average $387 per month.