AMENDMENTS TO THE SOCIAL SECURITY ACT
Since its inception in 1935, the U.S. government has modified the Social Security Act more than 20 times by major amendments. One of the first amendments, passed in 1939, added benefit support for the dependents (family members) of retired workers and for survivors of deceased workers. In the same year, the Social Security Board was absorbed into the cabinet-level Federal Security Agency. The government underwent a reorganization in 1946, and replaced the board with the Social Security Administration (SSA), still within the Federal Security Agency. In 1949 the government reorganized the SSA, moving the administration of Unemployment Compensation to the U.S. Department of Labor.
In 1953 the government abolished the Federal Security Agency, and the Social Security Administration became part of the new cabinet-level agency of Health, Education, and Welfare. In 1956, under President Dwight Eisenhower, the U.S. Congress added monthly benefits for disabled workers to Social Security. Along with the amendment of 1939 for benefits to dependents and survivors, this new amendment created the form of Social Security that still exists today, which is known as Old-Age, Survivors’, and Disability Insurance (OASDI).
A 1965 amendment signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson created Medicare, a program that provides hospital insurance to the elderly, along with supplementary medical insurance for other medical costs. A 1972 amendment to Social Security added Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs) to increase benefit payments in keeping with inflation. Another 1972 amendment combined the original Old-Age Assistance and Aid to the Blind programs with new provisions for assistance to disabled people, which created a new program called Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The federal government handled most of the administration of this new program. In 1980, the SSA became a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the federal agency that replaced the health and social welfare components of Health Education and Welfarein 1979.
During the 1970s and 1980s, concern arose about the financial integrity of the Social Security trust funds. The balance was shifting between money coming in from taxes and benefits going out of the funds, and it became clear that the trust funds could run out without some reforms to Social Security operations. To stem these developments, the administration of President Ronald Reagan passed a set of major legislative changes to Social Security laws in 1983. These changes included the cancellation and, in some cases, taxation of certain benefits. The Congress also legislated a gradual increase in the standard retirement age, raising it from 65 to 67 for individuals born in 1960 or later. The Reagan administration also began to consider returning the SSA to its original status as an independent agency. Many members of Congress and the president’s cabinet felt that this change would make the SSA more efficient and fiscally responsible, and would demonstrate the government’s renewed commitment to Social Security. Over a decade later, the SSA once again became an independent agency in 1995.
The following year, President Bill Clinton signed a set of major welfare reform bills into law. Under these reforms, the program called Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), a revision of the original ADC program, was abolished and replaced by Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF). This program placed time limits on benefits to poor families with dependent children, and set work requirements for receiving those benefits. Welfare reforms also affected the provision of Supplemental Security Income, in particular by denying benefits for most noncitizens, including most legal aliens.
Several federal agencies today support and administer the various Social Security programs. The Administration for Children and Families within Health and Human Services supports TANF by giving block grants to states, which administer the program. The SSA jointly administers Medicare with the Health Care Financing Administration of Health and Human Services. The U.S. Employment and Training Administration of the Department of Labor administers Unemployment Compensation. The SSA itself includes ten regional offices, six program centers, and more than 1,300 district and branch offices.
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