Survivors Benefits
and Disability Insurance

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

A new program was established in 1974, combining older welfare programs to assist the poor elderly, the blind and the disabled. This program, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), is funded by general tax revenues (not Social Security taxes) and administered by Social Security. It helps eight million aged, blind or disabled people who have little or no income, providing cash to meet basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter.

Public information poster in Spanish from 1965—a reminder that the professional self-employed (such as skilled artisans) were covered by Social Security under amendments passed in 1954. It is also a reminder that SSA’s public affairs activities have served the non-English speaking for many decades. SSA History Archives

Social security treats disability in two ways. Some recipients receive benefits as part of traditional social security. Others receive benefits under SSI, and SSI benefits also are payable to people 65 and older without disabilities who meet the financial limits. People who have worked long enough may also be able to receive Social Security disability or retirement benefits as well as SSI.

Traditional Social Security and Supplemental Social Security income together keep more than half of elderly women out of poverty. They are life sustaining programs which have transformed the lives of millions. FDR—and Congress—listened to the myriad pleas to “put your dear mother in my dear mother’s place.”

This 1970 poster powerfully makes the point that Social Security is more than a retirement program for senior citizens. SSA History Archives

Over time the meaning of words change—and entitlement has become a dirty word. Responding to real abuses—examples of persons collecting benefits based on disability or income level when they are ineligible to receive these benefits—critics have painted all recipients of these benefits as undeserving. The current economic crisis has heightened the problem. Overblown charges of widespread abuse coupled with Republican demands for austerity threaten the stability of these programs and the well-being, indeed the very lives, of those who need them

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