Social Security Survivors Benefits Page: 6 of 6
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payment upon the death of a fully insured person over the age of 65.19 The Social
Security Amendments of 1939 reduced the size of the lump-sum death payment and
expanded its coverage to both fully or currently insured workers, regardless of age.20
Monthly survivors benefits were also established in the 1939 amendments, including
those for widows, parents, and children. These changes were made to "afford more
adequate protection to the family as a unit" than could be afforded by a single lump-sum
payment that did not take into account family size or number of survivors.
Changes to Survivors Benefits. Few major changes to the survivors benefits
have been made since the 1939 amendments.
" The 1950 Amendments extended benefits to dependent widowers over
the age of 65 and to divorced widows with children (P.L. 81-734).
" The 1954 Amendments capped the lump-sum death benefit at $255 (P.L.
" The 1956 Amendments extended benefits to disabled children over the
age of 18 (P.L. 84-880).
" The 1965 Amendments allowed for payments to divorced widows
without children (P.L. 89-97).
" The Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981 phased out child's
benefits for post-secondary students. It also reduced from 18 to 16 the
maximum age of non-disabled children used to determine eligibility for
mother's and father's benefits, and restricted who could receive the
lump-sum death benefit (P.L. 97-35).
" The 1983 Amendments provided benefits for divorced widowers and
eliminated the dependency test for all widowers (P.L. 98-21).
Legislative Activity in the 110th Congress
Survivors benefits are based on the same formula as all other OASDI benefits, so any
changes to the basic benefit formula would affect survivor beneficiaries, unless they are
specifically exempt. Many comprehensive Social Security reform proposals would affect
survivors benefits. As of this writing, five bills before the 110th Congress would apply
only to survivors benefits:
" H.R. 340 would allow remarried widowers to continue receiving benefits
if the marriage on which they are based lasted at least 10 years.
" H.R. 341 would extend a lump-sum death benefit to all surviving
" H.R. 1159 would provide full benefits to all disabled widows and
widowers, regardless of age or previous benefit reduction.
" H.R. 1160 would allow widow and widower beneficiaries to receive
delayed retirement credits if they take up benefits after their full
" H.R. 1162 would repeal the seven-year restriction on eligibility for
disabled widow and widower beneficiaries.
19 P.L. 74-271. For more information, see CRS Report RL30920, Major Decisions in the House
and Senate on Social Security: 1935-2000, by Geoffrey Kollmann and Carmen Solomon-Fears.
20 P.L. 76-379.
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Social Security Survivors Benefits, report, January 8, 2008; Washington D.C.. (https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc812116/m1/6/: accessed April 21, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, https://digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.