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Most people think of Social Security as a retirement program. However, Social Security pays disability and survivors benefits as well. Medicare hospital insurance is also financed through Social Security taxes.

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In fact, children under 18 may qualify for benefits based on their mother’s or father’s work if either parent is deceased, or retired, or disabled. The child may be a natural child, stepchild, adopted child, or, under certain conditions, a grandchild. To qualify, a child must be:
  • Under age 18 (or under 19, if still in high school), or
  • Disabled before age 22 and unable to work because of the disability, and
  • Unmarried
Nearly 40 percent of current Social Security beneficiaries are non-retirees.


Survivors benefits are paid to the eligible members of a worker’s family. In addition to the eligible children identified above, other family members may include:

  • Widow or widower age 60 or older,
  • A widow or widower disabled at age 50
  • A divorced spouse may qualify on the same basis as a widow or widower if the marriage lasted 10 years or more.
  • A dependent parent 62 or older.


Full retirement benefits are currently paid at age 65. Full retirement benefits for today’s high school students will be paid at age 67. The increase will start in 2003, reaching 67 by 2027.
Reduced benefits are paid at age 62. Benefits are reduced for each month before age 65 a person retires, a maximum of 20 percent for a person retiring on his/her 62nd birthday. Under the 1983 amendments, the reduction for early retirement will be as high as 30 percent for people retiring after 2021.

Delayed retirement credits increase benefits for people who retire after the full retirement age, currently 65. Delayed retirement credits will gradually increase up to eight percent per year by 2009. Others who can get benefits on the worker’s record include:

  • Children, as stated above
  • Spouse age 62, or at any age caring for an eligible child under 16 or disabled.


Disability benefits are paid to workers who have a physical or mental impairment which is expected to keep them from working for a year or more or to result in death. The work does not need to be the same as the work they did before becoming disabled. It can be any work found in the national economy. Unlike some disability programs, Social Security does not pay for partial disability. The program is designed to protect against the risk of total, long-term disability.
Spouse and children may qualify for benefits on a disabled worker’s earnings record in the same way as with retired workers.



People over 65 and those who receive Social Security disability payments for 24 months, or who have permanent kidney failure, can get Medicare.
Medicare has two parts:

Part A (Hospital Insurance) covers most inpatient hospital expenses.

Part B (Supplementary Medical Insurance) covers doctors’ bills and other medical expenses. Everyone must pay a premium for Part B.



For people who have not worked long enough under Social Security to quality for benefits, or whose Social Security benefits are very low, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments may be available.
SSI is composed of the former state public assistance programs for the aged, blind, and disabled, taken over by the federal government in 1972 and administered by the Social Security Administration. SSI makes monthly payments to people with little income and resources.

No prior work is needed to qualify for monthly SSI payments. Applicants must be 65 and over, or blind, or disabled with limited income and resources.

When a person applies for SSI, eligibility for Social Security benefits is also explored. If he or she qualifies for Social Security, SSI payments may still be available if total income is within SSI limits.


Social Security has a toll-free number that operates from 7a.m. to 7p.m., Monday to Friday: 1-800-772-1213 If you have a touch-tone phone, recorded information and services are available 24 hours a day, including weekends and holidays. People who are deaf or hard of hearing may call our toll-free "TTY" number, 1-800-325-0778, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Monday through Friday. Please have your Social Security number handy when you call us.

Or you could visit us: click here to find your Social Security office address.

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Last reviewed or modified Wednesday Jul 02, 2008
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