Asked in Social Security

Q: What is the distinction between “Social insurance” and “Social assistance?”

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1 Lawyer Answer
Susan Michele Schaefer
Susan Michele Schaefer
  • Social Security Disability Lawyer
  • Prattville, AL

A: There are several major U.S. programs of social insurance. The largest is the Federal Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance System, usually referred to as social security, which provides retirement benefits, survivors' benefits, and benefits to the permanently and totally disabled. The next largest is the Federal-State program of unemployment insurance, followed by the State programs of workmen's compensation. An important principle of social insurance is that a person's entitlement and the way in which the amount of a person's benefits will be determined--are spelled out in detail in the statute itself, with as little discretion as possible left to the administering agency.

Social assistance is a transfer resources to people who are vulnerable due to economic or other eligibility criteria. Social assistance includes Social Services such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), as well as Supplemental Security Income (SSI). This type of assistance is needs-based eligibility rather than the earned entitlement of social insurance.

A person can receive both social insurance and social assistance under particular circumstances.

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