the president on August 14, 1935. The 1935 act included two major provisions for the elderly:

  • Title I (Grants to States for Old-Age Assistance) supported state welfare payments for the aged, and

  • Title II (Social Security) provided benefits to workers upon retirement at age 65.3

The Social Security Act of 1935 provided retirement benefits for workers at age 65. Social Security benefits and programs were expanded through a series of legislative amendments to cover the following:

  • In 1939: dependent’s benefits for the spouse and minor children of a retired worker and survivor’s benefits for the family of a covered worker who died before retirement,

  • In 1950: increased benefit amounts and cost-of-living allowance (COLA) increases,

  • In 1954 and 1956: disability benefits,

  • In 1956 and 1961: options providing for early retirement at age 62 (with reduced benefits) for women in 1956 and for men in 1961,

  • In 1965: Medicare (an SSA-administered health insurance program for people over 65), and

  • In 1972: a modern Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program and yearly COLA increases.4

The SSA began as an independent agency at the subcabinet level. It became part of the new Department of Health, Education and Welfare in 1953; was made part of the new Department of Health and Human Services in 1980; and was returned to independent-agency status in 1995.5

The SSA no longer administers Medicare, which is now administered by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS; formerly the Health Care Financing Administration), itself part of the Department of Health and Human Services. Although CMS is in charge of Medicare, the SSA provides substantial service-delivery support for the program. For example, applicants can receive general information about Medicare and its programs from the SSA and can apply for Medicare through the


Adapted from Social Security Administration, “Social Security History” available at, accessed June 9, 2006.


Social Security Administration, “Social Security History,” available at, accessed June 9, 2006.


Abridged from “SSA History,” available at, accessed June 9, 2006.

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement