July 20, 2021

Van Hollen, Sanders Introduce Legislation to Extend Social Security Benefits for Students

Bill would provide critical financial support to over one million students seeking higher education

Today, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced new legislation to extend Social Security benefits to age 26 for students who are survivors, children of disabled workers, and eligible grandchildren of retired workers. The Senators’ legislation, the Helping Students Successfully Overcome Adversity and Rise (SOAR) with Social Security Act, would restore critical supports for families and bolster the higher education success of their children.

“Children who receive Social Security benefits have faced unique and challenging hardships – like the loss of a parent. For these young people, the financial burdens are real – often requiring them to work in order to compensate for their limited family income – and stand in the way of their continued education. This legislation would provide the support these students and their families need to remove these barriers and allow them to further their education. It’s crucial that we pass this bill to provide greater opportunity and access to college for over one million of these young Americans,” said Senator Van Hollen.

It is absolutely unacceptable that hundreds of thousands of bright young Americans do not get a higher education each year, not because they are unqualified, but because their family does not have enough money. For 4 million kids ages 19 and under, Social Security child benefits provide critical help. It is time to expand the Social Security child benefit to give students the support they need through college to help address this crisis,” said Senator Sanders.

The Helping Students SOAR with Social Security Act is endorsed by: Social Security Works, Strengthen Social Security Coalition, Generations United, National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA), Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), and Blue Future.

Social Security provides critical benefits to over 3 million children ages 19 and younger. For the families of these children, the benefits serve as critical wage replacement when income is lost due to retirement, disability, or death.

From 1965-1982, eligible child Social Security dependents were permitted to continue benefits as qualifying post-secondary students. The program, whose beneficiaries were disproportionately first-generation, low-income, or from underrepresented backgrounds, was repealed with the Reagan Administration’s cuts to Social Security. Studies have shown that the elimination of the program reduced the probability of a student beneficiary attending college by one-third.

Today, with families enduring financial hardship and college enrollment rates falling at an alarming rate, extending the child benefit for post-secondary students would serve as a lifeline for our nation’s most vulnerable families. The financial instability and health concerns from the COVID-19 pandemic have disrupted college attendance across the nation, exacerbating the strain already felt by students and their families in recent years from skyrocketing tuition. As of March 2021, undergraduate enrollment overall had declined by nearly 6%, with community colleges experiencing an 11% drop. First-generation, low-income, Black, Latinx, Native American, and rural white students have experienced the most precipitous decline in college-going rates, with many citing loss in their own or family income as a factor in their decision to delay their college plans or withdraw.

Many families who have lost loved ones due to COVID-19 and are contending with lost family income are seeking Social Security survivor benefits. Further, early predictions from SSA actuaries indicate that disability incidence will rise for the next three years related to long-term medical problems experienced after a COVID-19 diagnosis, resulting in an increase of individuals unable to maintain substantial gainful employment and seeking SSDI benefits. By amending the Social Security Act to extend eligibility for child’s benefits until age 26 for at least half-time post-secondary students who are survivors; children of disabled workers; and eligible grandchildren of retired workers, the Helping Students SOAR with Social Security Act would provide families with crucial support to increase educational opportunity.

"Social Security is our nation's largest children's program. It provides benefits to over 3 million children, many of whose parents died young or are disabled. Those benefits should continue when these children are in college or other post-secondary education. Social Security Works enthusiastically endorses the Helping Students SOAR with Social Security Act, which would enable some of our nation's most vulnerable young people to get an education without drowning in debt,” said Alex Lawson, Executive Director of Social Security Works.

“Senator Van Hollen is to be applauded for his wise, important legislation, the Helping Students SOAR with Social Security Act. Parents can’t assist their children in acquiring post-secondary education if they die or become so disabled that work is no longer possible. When that happens, all of us together, through our Social Security system, should provide the Social Security children’s benefits those parents have earned. Our Social Security system used to provide them, but no longer does. The Helping Students SOAR with Social Security Act restores and expands that essential Social Security benefit,” said Nancy Altman, Chair of the Strengthen Social Security Coalition.

“The Helping Students SOAR with Social Security Act acknowledges the need for education beyond high school in America’s changing economy, and ensures that the Social Security children’s benefits that helped them through high school will continue to support them through college. Now, more than ever, in this time of heightened need as the country recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic, it is critical that students don’t lose critical financial resources before they have the postsecondary skills they need to become self-supporting,” said Justin Draeger, President & CEO of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA).

"Young people across race and place are eager to support this important legislation that will create more opportunities for all of us to thrive. The Helping Students SOAR with Social Security Act offers critical support for young folks who have experienced financial hardships and sends a signal that in America, we believe everyone should be able to soar to their highest potential,” said Nick Guthman, Co-Executive Director of Blue Future.

“Social Security is more than a retirement program. It provides essential support to spouses and children of people who have died or are disabled. This legislation will ensure that support extends beyond 18 to help young adults to complete or continue their education. With the rising cost of higher education and ballooning student debt, the timing could not be more critical,” said Jaia Lent, Deputy Executive Director of Generations United.