The Social Security Act is a law in the United States that attempts to provide for the basic financial needs of the retired and disabled. It was signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt on August 14, 1935, who introduced it in response to the crisis that was The Great Depression.
the Act's History
FDR first introduced his plan for Social Security in a speech to Congress on June 8, 1934, saying "Among our objectives I place the security of the men, women and children of the nation first." On the 29th of the same month, he established a committee to research and report how such an act would be implemented. They reported back next January, recommending that a program be implemented which covered all workers in the United States, and that year the act was passed by Congress (in the House, 372-33, and in the Senate, 77-6.
As it stood then, the Social Security Act only covered the retirement of workers age 65 or older; it had no provisions for disabled people or people who had not been a significant part of the workforce during their lives. Amendments were made to the act in 1939 that added two new categories of benefits: payments to the spouse and minor children of a retired worker (so-called dependents benefits) and survivors benefits paid to the family in the event of the premature death of the worker. Disability benefits were not introduced until amendments of 1954 and 1956, and weren't fully in place until about 1960.
In the 60's, Medicare was introduced as part of the act. Under Medicare, health coverage was extended to Social Security beneficiaries aged 65 or older (and eventually to those receiving disability benefits as well). Nearly 20 million beneficiaries enrolled in Medicare in the first 3 years of the program. It was administered as part of the Social Security Act until 1977.
Supplemental Security Income
Supplemental Security Income was implemented in 1971. Because SSA benefits varied so widely from state to state, Nixon felt that there was a need "bring reason, order, and purpose into a tangle of overlapping programs." In the Social Security Amendments of 1972, Congress federalized the adult categories by creating the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program and assigned responsibility for it to the SSA.
Future of Social Security
Social security has been very controversial pretty much since it was introduced in 1934. Many conservative politicians have disagreed with the concept of a program for retirement being paid into by every worker, reasoning instead that retirement should be a more individual investment. Most of the United States agrees that Social Security is a good thing, but disagree about how much of workers' income taxes should go to Social Security. Because of this, the program's future is under many long-term challenges. A 2000 Trustees Report stated Social Security could pay full benefits until 2037, but that the standard 75-year test of actuarial balance was not met. The controversy about Social Security will probably never end, so it is an issue that every US administration needs to face, especially in the current years where the program as it stands will run out sometime in the next few decades.
Hopefully, the United States administration even under the conservative influence of George W. Bush, will recognize the importance of this program, and make provisions to keep the Social Security Act alive and well.