Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health

Social Security

Although best known for it retirement benefits, Social Security is really a family insurance program—it provides income support to disabled workers and their families, as well as to the survivors of workers who die. Nearly a third of Social Security’s beneficiaries are not retirees.

Over 5 million children benefit from Social Security, either directly as beneficiaries or as members of households that receive a monthly Social Security check. In fact, more children benefit from Social Security than from the nation’s primary cash welfare program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

Social Security’s original promise was that hard-working people and their families would not be consigned to destitution simply because of early death or disability. Each year, Social Security keeps one million children out of poverty.

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