Opinion: Expand Social Security Survivor Benefits Through College

We all know that the “broke college student” phenomenon is real. Finding a job that fits our schedule is not always easy and with Copley and Quincy Market being half an hour or so away, money diminishes like my self-esteem when I step into Plex. It feels like allowances are never enough, and we constantly yearn for more.

Especially here in Chestnut Hill, one of the most affluent areas in the region, we often fail to recognize people who are genuinely suffering from a lack of money. They don’t want money just to go out to a fancy restaurant with their friends or buy a cute new winter sweater, but rather for everyday living expenses. One group of students that deserves recognition is those who qualify for Social Security Survivors’ Benefits; these kids have lost either lost one or both parents, or are living with a disabled parent.

Under the Social Security Survivors Benefits established in 1939, children could receive benefits until age 18. In 1965, a growing emphasis on the importance of a college education allowed the benefits to expand. Young adults enrolled in college could now receive benefits through the age of 22 when they would presumably graduate. This meant that driven students could now pursue a higher education, a higher-level job, and better quality of life. Unfortunately, the student benefit for college students was repealed in the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981.

The three concerns that led to the repeal were cost, overpayment, and availability of other aid. Over $2 billion were being distributed per year while Social Security began to experience financial challenges in the 1970s. In addition, student benefits were based on a student’s full time enrollment at college. If a student were to drop out, he or she would have to report to the program, and they would no longer receive aid. Often the self-reporting did not happen, and students would abuse the system. Lastly, the Senate Budget committee claimed that there were a lot of other sources for financial aid. “Since the time the student benefit was created in 1965, the amount of such federally funded educational assistance has grown from less than $300 million to about $7 billion a year. State, local, and private resources would also be available to assist these students.” 

This was all in 1981. Today, in 2013, with the ever-rising cost of living, the student benefits must come back. Now more than ever, a college degree has never been more important. According to Generations United, college graduates earn an average of 61% more than high school graduates over their lifetimes. Educated people are less likely to be unemployed and more likely to receive job benefits such as health insurance as well.

$60,000 for tuition is a number that we often joke about on campus, and that number will only rise over time. While tuition have gone up, grants and other financial aid have not adjusted to the inflation. Therefore, students are receiving less and less aid every year. In addition, for many, student benefits were a deciding factor of whether one would go to college or not. After the repeal, there was a decrease in student enrollment from low-income families. This keeps many students trapped in poverty with limited opportunity and hope for upward mobility.

Recently, our very own Senator Warren has shown her support for the expansion of Social Security. Other senators like Tom Harkin and Sherrod Brown also support this expansion. Students face skyrocketing student loan debts, making a higher education impossible for some. 78% of Americans support the expansion of Social Security Survivor Benefits so that children with deceased or disabled parents can still pursue a better quality of life.

With a well-run and efficient system, the Social Security program could aid thousands of earnest students. Instead of self-reporting, the program should require the financial aid offices of colleges to report to the government about dropouts. By reinstating the act to extend survivor benefits to students until age 22, we will give countless people more opportunity and have a more educated and prosperous community.

Portland native with roots in Jersey. Lover of almonds, music and coffee shops. Desperately wants Stars Hallow to be a real place.