History of Social Security


Timeline of Events

  • 1935 – President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the the Social Security Board (SSB) when he signed the Social Security Act
  • 1937 – The Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA), which ensured taxes were paid into Social Security, was born. Ernest Ackerman became the first to receive Social Security benefits. He was paid a one-time lump sum of 17 cents
  • 1940 – Monthly benefit payments began. Ida May Fuller was the first recipient of these monthly benefits
  • 1946 – The SSB became the Social Security Administration (SSA)
  • 1956 – Disability benefits were added (in addition to retirement benefits)
  • 1960 – In Flemming v. Nestor (1960) the Supreme Court ruled that “entitlement to Social Security benefits is not a contractual right”
  • 1965 – Medicare was implemented
  • 1972 – Amendments were made to the Social Security Act that provided for increased funds and which also established the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) not as an entitlement program but as a welfare program
  • 1980 – The SSA became part of the Department of Health and Human Services
  • 1995 – The SSA returned to being an independent agency once again
  • 2001 – President George Bush implemented National Commission to Strengthen Social Security

Roosevelt’s Vision

The Social Security Retirement Program was created by President Roosevelt in response to the pressure of the Great Depression when poverty rates reached up to 50% among senior citizens. After the nation’s wealth was cut in half during the Depression, the economy could not sustain so many unemployed individuals. Out of concern for “young people [who] have come to wonder what would be their lot when they came to old age” and to those who did not have job security and ill-health, President Roosevelt, when signing the Social Security Act, admitted that “we can never insure one hundred percent of the population against one hundred percent of the hazards and vicissitudes of life,” but this law would provide “some measure of protection.” Social Security was a part of a bigger effort to “lessen the force of possible future depressions.” His vision, though mostly focused on retirement benefits, paved the way for the Social Security program that we have in place today.

The Evolution of Social Security

When it was first created, the SSB only provided retirement benefits in response to helping senior citizens who had been the primary workers in their families. The act only provided unemployment insurance, old-age assistance, aid to dependent children, and grants to the states, who were put in charge of deciding their own medical care plans.

In the 1950s, Congress debated whether disabled workers should be entitled primarily to medical assistance to help them to return to work or whether the government also needed to provide a cash benefit.  Congress soon decided that it was unfair to expect disabled individuals who were close to retirement age to successfully rehabilitate from their disabilities and find jobs to fit their limitations. These Congressional debates led to amendments to the act which provided disability benefits in 1956. These benefits included both cash and medical provisions and became known as Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

Sources: The Social Security Administration

Photo courtesy of: Wikimedia Commons