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Threats to Social Security Threaten Children Too

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The President promised that, if re-elected, he will pursue a permanent cut to the Payroll Tax Deduction that is the basis of guaranteed funding for and continuation of Social Security. His alternative to use general revenue funds is a recipe for insecurity for millions of future Social Security recipients.

Most Americans think about Social Security as retirement income for the elderly and perhaps also that it provides financial support to people with disabilities. Less well-known — but equally important — is the impact of Social Security (Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance or OASDI) for more than four million children whose parents died, became disabled, or retired. Together, they received $2.8 billion in income support in June 2020 alone.

In addition, millions of other children live in a household with a grandparent or other Social Security beneficiary, where Social Security is likely the main or even the only household income. Twenty-six percent of grandparents who are raising grandchildren have a disability and, even with Social Security, 19 percent live below the poverty line. Researchers from Penn State estimated that without Social Security, it would be closer to 59 percent. More recently Social Security has become even more important considering the increase in the number of grandparents that are being called on to raise children because of the opioid epidemic. Nationally, the number of children raised in grandfamilies (also known as kinship care) increased by nearly 15 percent between 2007 and 2017. As one grandmother said following the work-related death of her son, “Social Security benefits made the critical difference in my ability to support my grandson rather than leave him to be raised by others.”

Social Security also is more efficient than its private sector counterparts. Of every dollar spent, less than a penny goes to administration. At times of national tragedies and crises, such as the September 11 terror attacks and natural disasters, Social Security has quickly provided a lifeline for children. According to the Social Security Administration’s press release, Social Security and September 11th: Years Later — 2006, the program “paid monthly benefits to 2,377 surviving children and 853 surviving spouses” with the first payments arriving on October 3, 2001.

The Social Security survivor benefits will be critical during the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath. Of the nearly 170,000 lives already lost, multiple news stories confirm that children are losing one or both parent to death or disabling condition from this virus.

The survivor benefits will also be crucial for people of color, who experience significantly higher rates of becoming infected and dying of Covid-19. Between the years 2001 and 2014, more than 70 percent of African American children received a direct or indirect benefit from Social Security. If Social Security disappears or is diminished, it will be an economic disaster for children, their parents, and their grandparents while further exacerbating the racial wealth gap.

Despite the fearmongering and threats to weaken or dismantle it, Social Security can and should be bolstered to ensure that it continues to play its vital family support role, protecting nearly every child in America. For example, legislation introduced by Representative John B. Larson, the Social Security 2100 Act with 208 cosponsors, fairly strengthens Social Security’s revenue to ensure that all benefits can be paid in full and on time through the year 2100, including to eligible children.

When you hear politicians call for a holiday from or the end of the payroll deduction or offer other proposals for Social Security, think to yourself: what will it mean for our children?

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