Entitlements and government safety-net programs provide income, health, education or other forms of assistance (either cash or in-kind benefits) to individuals, families and households. These government programs provide individuals with personal financial or in-kind benefits to which potential beneficiaries have a legal right whenever they meet eligibility conditions specified by the law authorizing the program.
This AARP Public Policy Institute Data Digest examines the distribution of work-related and need-related benefits among American families in 2004.
- Work-related benefit programs are based on the past work of individuals or families. The most common and best-known of these are Social Security (Old-Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance) and Medicare (Hospital Insurance and Supplemental Medical Insurance for the elderly and disabled). Other work-related programs include government pension plans, Unemployment Compensation UC), Workers’ Compensation (WC), and some veterans benefits.
- Need-related (or means-tested) benefit programs provide assistance based on the financial need of individuals or families whose income and assets fall below a specified dollar amount. These programs are often restricted to certain categories of people – generally those who are aged, blind and/or disabled. Some of the best-known programs include Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for needy aged, blind, and disabled persons; Medicaid providing medical assistance and long-term care for poor people; food stamps for low-income households, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) providing cash assistance for low-income families.
While most older Americans are covered by Social Security and Medicare, need-related government programs are still important for older Americans who are poor. (8 pages)