The United States Social Security Administration (SSA) is an independent agency of the United States federal government that administers Social Security, a 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 Social Security Administration was established by a law currently codified at . Its current commissioner is Michael J. Astrue, who was sworn in on February 12, 2007 and whose six-year term expires on January 19, 2013.
SSA is headquartered in Woodlawn, Maryland, just to the west of Baltimore, at what is known as Central Office. The agency includes 10 regional offices, 8 processing centers, approximately 1300 field offices, and 37 Teleservice Centers. As of 2007, about 62,000 people were employed by the SSA. Social security is currently the largest social welfare program in the U.S., constituting 37% of government expenditure and 7% of GDP, and is currently estimated to keep roughly 40% all Americans age 65 or older, out of poverty.
The first Social Security office opened in Austin, Texas, on October 14, 1936. Social Security taxes were collected first in January 1937, along with the first one-time, lump-sum payments. The first person to receive a Social Security benefit was Ernest Ackerman, who was paid 17 cents in January 1937. This was a one-time, lump-sum pay-out, which was the only form of benefits paid during the start-up period January 1937 through December 1939. The first person to receive monthly retirement benefits was Ida Mae Fuller of Brattleboro, Vermont. Her first check, dated January 31, 1940 was in the amount of US$22.54.
In 1939, the Social Security Board 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. In January 1940, the first regular ongoing monthly benefits were begun.
In 1946, the SSB was renamed the Social Security Administration under President Harry S. Truman's Reorganization Plan.
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 into law returning the SSA to the status of an independent agency in the executive branch of government.
Due to space constraints and ongoing renovations, many headquarters employees work in leased space throughout the Woodlawn area.
Railroad workers were covered by the Railroad Retirement Board before Social Security was founded; they still are, though a portion of each railroad pension is designated as "equivalent" to Social Security. Railroad workers also participate in Medicare.
Most state and local government workers were eventually brought into the Social Security system under "Section 218 Agreements". A Section 218 Agreement is a voluntary agreement between a state and SSA. The original 218 interstate instrumentalities were signed in the 1950's. All states have a Section 218 agreement with the Social Security Administration. For more information see Chapter 10 of the Social Security Handbbook. The Social Security handbook chapter 10, section 1002 defines what is an "interstate instrumentality. The provisions of Section 218 of the Social Security Act and the instrumentalities agreement and subsequent modifcations determine social security and medicare or Medicare-only coverage for state and local government employees enrolled in state and local government retirement systems. To determine if your state has signed a 218 agreement contact your State Social Security Administrator. A list of State Social Security administrators that administer section 218 agreement is maintained on-line at All State and local government hired since 1986, or who are covered by section 218 agreements, participate in Medicare even if not covered by Social security. How State And Local Government Employees are covered By Social Security And Medicare see The Federal-State reference guide appendix Other local and state employees were brought into coverage under a 1991 Social Security law that required these employees to join Social Security if their employer did not provide them with a pension plan. It is believed that some state and local governments continue to maintain their own pension plans and have not executed Section 218 agreements; if so, their workers do not participate in Social Security. (If those workers also have service in Social Security, however, their Social Security benefits are reduced by a rule known as the Windfall Elimination Provision; there is also a similar Government Pension Offset for their spouses.)
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 have always been a small fraction of benefits paid.
SSA Pub. No 25-1556. Teleservice Representative Basic Training Curriculum Introduction Unit 1 Lessons 01-08 Student. pp. 7-15. Social Security Administration. April 2006.
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