‘Startling’ number of Black children don’t get Social Security benefits they’re entitled to, report says

An analysis by a former Social Security Administration administrator and researcher found that 26% of Black children who have lost a parent — 257,533 — receive survivor payments.

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Many Black children do not receive the Social Security payments to which they are entitled, mainly because of a system that makes it difficult to determine exactly who’s eligible.

According to CBS News, an analysis by David Weaver, a former Social Security Administration administrator and researcher, found that approximately 26% of Black children who have lost a parent — 257,533 — receive survivor payments, compared to 46% of non-Black minors. 

Compared to 2009, the most recent year with data broken down by race, almost 30,000 fewer Black children are getting survivor payments from the SSA.

Social security survivor payments
A former Social Security Administration administrator and researcher found that approximately 26% of Black children who have lost a parent receive their allotted survivor payments. (Photo Credit: Adobe Stock)

Census Bureau data notes that 9.6%, or nearly 975,000, of the 10.1 million Black children in the U.S. as of 2021 had at least one parent who had passed away. From April 2020 until the end of 2022, Black children lost caregivers at a rate twice that of white children.

Weaver described the figures as “startling,” stressing that Social Security is a social insurance program, and its benefits should be dispersed equally.

Every employee in the United States contributes to Social Security, and those who have worked long enough qualify for benefits when they retire or become incapacitated. If they die, their surviving family members may also become eligible. 

Several factors determine whether a child under 18 is qualified, but those who are qualified usually get 75% of the amount the deceased parent was qualified to receive, amounting to an average of $957.05 per month last year.

Weaver’s research raises concerns about why the remaining 717,000 African American youngsters who lost a mother or father do not receive survivor benefits and what needs to happen to improve their access.

When questioned about the gap in survivor benefits for Black children, an SSA representative stated it is “committed to equitable access” but said among the issues could be a parent’s minimal work history, which might disqualify their child from receiving a benefit.

Lack of knowledge that Social Security benefits family survivors, not just retirees, is frequently identified as the main barrier to getting children their due benefits. 

Before 2011, all employees over 25 got an annual statement outlining their benefits choices in the case of an untimely death. Now, only employees under the age of 60 receive notices.

In recent years, a bipartisan group of members of Congress has worked to overturn the modification and order Social Security to resume issuing benefit statements, including information on survivor benefits.

“Families may not even know they are eligible,” said bereavement policy expert Joyal Mulheron, according to CBS. “When you experience the death of a loved one, it’s not simply being sad. It can throw the stability of a family into chaos.”

Martha Shedden, National Association of Registered Social Security Analysts president, added that the inability to apply online presents another issue; you must contact or visit an office. 

Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, who chairs the subcommittee in charge of Social Security, and other Senate Democrats have urged President Joe Biden to designate a “beneficiary advocate” to represent the program’s participants inside the organization and resolve user complaints.

Retroactive payments only go back six months, so Shedden advised that the longer a bereaved family waits to apply for benefits, the more money the children will lose.

Experts noted that extended family members receive custody of many children, some of whom may not be aware of the deceased parent’s employment history or may not know they are eligible to file for the child’s benefits. 

Others get thrown into defective foster care systems, where Black minors are overrepresented disproportionately.

Patrice Willoughby, senior vice president for global policy and impact at the NAACP, contended the Social Security Administration must improve its ability to locate family caregivers or foster systems caring for Black children who have lost a parent.

“While the problem itself is urgent,” said Willougbhy, CBS reported, “because we cannot allow for children to fall through the cracks, it is a silent problem because there is not an advocacy component associated with the needs of Black children holistically.”

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