What is Social Security?
Social Security is a federal income-security program established in 1935 as part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. As America struggled to move out of the Depression, this important program provided a segment of the population with a path towards economic security. About 166 million people work and pay Social Security taxes and about 59 million people receive monthly benefits.
Social Security monthly benefits help elders, disabled workers and families in which a spouse or parent dies. However, Social Security was never meant to be the only source of income for people when they retire. Social Security replaces about 40 percent of an average wage earner’s income after retiring. To have a comfortable retirement, Americans need more than Social Security.
As a “pay as you go” program, the payroll taxes paid by current workers are used to fund the benefits of current Social Security recipients.
Social Security consists of three major programs:
- Retirement: Social Security provides a lifetime monthly income for qualifying work once an individual reaches their full retirement age.
- Survivors: Social Security provides a monthly lifetime income to the surviving spouse of a deceased worker once he or she reaches retirement age.
- Disability: Social Security pays lifetime monthly income to workers who are disabled and, in some cases, to their spouses and children under age 18.
Historically, access to benefits has proven difficult for many American Indians and Alaska Natives. Therefore, a basic understanding of how Social Security works can help elders know their rights and get the benefits they’ve earned and deserve.
How It Works
Social Security is a cash benefit provided by the federal government to all qualifying individuals, regardless of race or ethnicity. The system pays back a percentage of historical earnings on a monthly basis. The system is “progressive” — meaning that low wage earners receive a bigger portion of their contributions back when compared with higher wage earners.
During your working life, you pay into the system with taxes withheld from paychecks. As you pay into the system, “quarters of credit” are earned. Those with 40 credits (which can be earned in as few as 10 years of work) can receive Social Security payments when they are eligible to retire under the system.
While the primary purpose of the Social Security system has been to ensure that elders who had a working career have at least one source of income in retirement, the system has adapted over time to serve other populations.
Tribal Communities and Social Security
Currently, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has a Tribal Consultation Office. The office works to improve procedures and communications to address the needs of Indian Country. The SSA is committed to working with tribal governments to build strong positive relationships between their agency and tribal nations.
The Tribal Consultation Office has created a website to better improve communication and provide information about all of Social Security’s programs to American Indians and Alaska Natives. The website provides information about all of the Social Security’s programs, online services and publishes the annual progress report on tribal consultation and coordination outreach. It’s important for Native people and tribal leaders to share their needs, feedback and ideas so that the SSA can better serve them and improve access to services, expand outreach efforts, improve service delivery and strengthen policy consultation.