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Social Security Administration

The United States Social Security Administration (SSA) manages the United States' social insurance program, consisting of retirement, disability, and survivors benefits. To qualify for these benefits, most American workers pay Social Security taxes on their earnings; future benefits are based on the employees' contributions.

The legal authority for the SSA is Title 42 of the United States Code.

The SSA is headquartered in Woodlawn, Maryland, a suburb of Baltimore.



The SSA began existence as the Social Security Board (SSB), created as part of the New Deal program of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, by the Social Security Act of 1935. The Board consisted of three presidentially-appointed executives, and started with no budget, no staff, and no furniture. It obtained a temporary budget from the Federal Emergency Relief Administration headed by Harry Hopkins.

In 1939, the Social Security Board was merged into a cabinet-level Federal Security Agency , which included the SSB, the U.S. Public Health Service, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and other agencies.

SSA issued its first retirment check in the 1940's to Ida Mae Fuller. The check had an approximate value of $40.

In 1946 the SSB was renamed the Social Security Administration under President Harry S. Truman's Reorganization Plan.

In 1952 Cost of Living Allowances (COLAs) were introduced into SSA programs to deal with the effects of inflation on fixed incomes.

In 1953 the Federal Security Agency was abolished and the SSA was placed under the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. HEW became the Department of Health and Human Services in 1980. In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed legislation returning the SSA to the status of an independent agency.


The SSA's coverage under the Social Security program originally covered all workers in the continental U.S. and the territories of Alaska and Hawaii below the age of 65 in commerce and industry, except railroad workers; they were covered by the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB). In both cases, all coverage was compulsory. In 1939, the age restriction was eliminated. The RRB and the SSA merged coverage in 1946. Over the years, additional coverage was made compulsory.

Old Age, Survivors and Disability

The SSA administers these social insurance programs, which provide monthly benefits to retired or disabled workers, their spouses and children, and to the survivors of insured workers. In 2004, more than 47 million Americans will receive approximately $492 billion in Social Security benefits. The programs are financed by mandatory contributions which employers, employees, and self-insured persons pay. These revenues are placed into a special trust fund.

Supplementary Security Income (SSI)

SSA administers the SSI program, which is needs-based, for elderly, blind, or disabled persons. This program began in 1973. SSI recipients are paid out of the general revenue of the U.S. In addition, some states pay additional SSI funds. Approximately 7 million persons are covered by SSI.


The administration of the Medicare program is the responsibility of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, but SSA district offices and program service centers are used for determining eligibility, processing premium payments, and for some public contact.

Black Lung (Pneumoconiosis)

The Department of Labor and the SSA are involved in certain aspects of administering benefits under the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969 (30 U.S.C. 901).


While the establishment of Social Security predated the invention of the modern digital computer, punch card data processing was a mature technology and the Social Security system made extensive use of automated unit record equipment from the program's inception. This allowed the Social Security Administration to achieve a high level of efficiency. SSA expenses were a small fraction of benefits paid.

See also

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Last updated: 05-21-2005 14:02:40