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Social Security Administration
Official seal of the Social Security Administration
Flag of the United States Social Security Administration.svg
Flag of the Social Security Administration
Agency overview
Formed August 14, 1935; 87 years ago (1935-08-14)
Jurisdiction Federal government of the United States
Headquarters Woodlawn, Maryland, U.S.
Employees 60,000
Annual budget $1.06 trillion (FY 2018)
Agency executive
  • Andrew Saul, Commissioner

The United States Social Security Administration (SSA) is an independent agency of the U.S. federal government that administers Social Security, a social insurance program consisting of retirement, disability, and survivor benefits. To qualify for most of these benefits, most workers pay Social Security taxes on their earnings; the claimant's benefits are based on the wage earner's contributions. Otherwise benefits such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are given based on need.

The Social Security Administration was established by a non-positive law codified at 42 U.S.C. § 901 (49 Stat. 635). It was created in 1935 as the "Social Security Board", then assumed its present name in 1946. Its current leader, Commissioner Andrew Saul, has served since June 2019, succeeding Acting Commissioner Nancy Berryhill.

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 2018, about 60,000 people were employed by SSA. Headquarters non-supervisory employees of SSA are represented by American Federation of Government Employees Local 1923. Social Security is the largest social welfare program in the United States. For 2014, the net cost of Social Security was $906.4 billion, an amount corresponding to 21% of US Federal Government expenditures.


Social Security, "Part of the biggest bookeeping job in the world, Filing workers' applications for social security... - NARA - 195882
The job of filing workers' applications for Social Security quickly became, in the government's words, "part of the biggest bookkeeping job in the world".

The Social Security Act created a Social Security Board (SSB), to oversee the administration of the new program. It was created as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal with the signing of the Social Security Act of 1935 on August 14, 1935. The Board consisted of three presidentially appointed executives, and started with no budget, no staff, and no furniture. It obtained a temporary budget from the Federal Emergency Relief Administration headed by Harry Hopkins. The first counsel for the new agency was Thomas Elliott, one of Felix Frankfurter's "happy hot dogs".

The first Social Security office opened in Austin, Texas, on October 14, 1936 Social Security taxes were first collected in January 1937, along with the first one-time, lump-sum payments. The first person to receive monthly retirement benefits was Ida May 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 began. 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 SSA was placed under the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, which became the Department of Health and Human Services in 1980. In 1994, President Bill Clinton amended non-positive law 42 U.S.C. § 901 and returned SSA to the status of an independent agency in the executive branch of government. In 1972, Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs) were introduced into SSA programs to deal with the effects of inflation on fixed incomes.


Social Security Commissioners

  • Arthur J. Altmeyer (July 16, 1946 – April 10, 1953)
  • William L. Mitchell (Acting) (April 11, 1953 – November 23, 1953)
  • John W. Tramburg (November 24, 1953 – July 31, 1954)
  • Charles I. Schottland (August 23, 1954 – December 31, 1958)
  • William L. Mitchell (February 4, 1959 – April 3, 1962)
  • Robert M. Ball (April 17, 1962 – March 17, 1973)
  • Arthur E. Hess (Acting) (March 18, 1973 – October 24, 1973)
  • James B. Cardwell (October 25, 1973 – December 12, 1977)
  • Don I. Wortman (Acting) (December 13, 1977 – October 4, 1978)
  • Stanford G. Ross (October 5, 1978 – December 31, 1979)
  • Herbert R. Doggette (Acting) (January 1, 1980 – January 2, 1980)
  • William J. Driver (January 3, 1980 – January 19, 1981)
  • Herbert R. Doggette (Acting) (January 20, 1981 – May 5, 1981)
  • John A. Svahn (May 6, 1981 – September 12, 1983)
  • Martha A. McSteen (Acting) (September 14, 1983 – June 25, 1986)
  • Dorcas R. Hardy (June 26, 1986 – July 31, 1989)
  • Gwendolyn S. King (August 1, 1989 – September 30, 1992)
  • Louis D. Enoff (Acting) (October 1, 1992 – July 18, 1993)
  • Lawrence H. Thompson (Acting) (July 19, 1993 – October 7, 1993)
  • Shirley S. Chater (October 8, 1993 – February 28, 1997)
  • John J. Callahan (March 1, 1997 – September 28, 1997)
  • Kenneth S. Apfel (September 29, 1997 – January 20, 2001)
  • William Halter (Acting) (January 21, 2001 – March 28, 2001)
  • Larry G. Massanari (Acting) (March 29, 2001 – November 9, 2001)
  • Jo Anne B. Barnhart (November 9, 2001 – January 19, 2007)
  • Linda S. McMahon (Acting) (January 20, 2007 – February 11, 2007)
  • Michael J. Astrue (February 12, 2007 – February 13, 2013)
  • Carolyn W. Colvin (Acting) (February 14, 2013 – January 20, 2017)
  • Nancy A. Berryhill (Acting) (January 21, 2017 – June 17, 2019)
  • Andrew M. Saul (June 17, 2019–Present)


One part of SSA headquarters in Woodlawn, Maryland

SSA was one of the first federal agencies to have its national headquarters outside of Washington, D.C., or its adjacent suburbs. It was located in Baltimore initially due to the need for a building that was capable of holding the unprecedented amount of paper records that would be needed. Nothing suitable was available in Washington in 1936, so the Social Security Board selected the Candler Building on Baltimore's harbor as a temporary location. Soon after locating there, construction began on a permanent building for SSA in Washington that would meet their requirements for record storage capacity. However, by the time the new building was completed, World War II had started, and the building was commandeered by the War Department. By the time the war ended, it was judged too disruptive to relocate the agency to Washington. The Agency remained in the Candler Building until 1960, when it relocated to its newly built headquarters in Woodlawn.

The road on which the headquarters is located, built especially for SSA, is named Security Boulevard (Maryland Route 122) and has since become one of the major arteries connecting Baltimore with its western suburbs. Security Boulevard is also the name of SSA's exit from the nearby Baltimore Beltway (Interstate 695). A nearby shopping center has been named Security Square Mall, and Woodlawn is often referred to informally as "Security." Interstate 70, which runs for thousands of miles from Utah to Maryland, terminates in a park and ride lot that adjoins the SSA campus.

Due to space constraints and ongoing renovations, many headquarters employees work in leased space throughout the Woodlawn area. Other SSA components are located elsewhere. For example, the headquarters (also known as Central Office) of SSA's Office of Disability Adjudication and Review is located in Falls Church, Virginia.

Program Service Centers

Horace Harding S 97th Pl td (2019-03-17) 09 - LeFrak City
The two buildings in the center, part of Lefrak City in Rego Park, Queens, housed the Northeastern Program Service Center until ...
Social Security Bldg Archer Ave 20170102 113517 345
... it was moved to the Joseph P. Addabbo Federal Building in Jamaica, Queens, in the late 1980s.

Much of the actual processing of initial benefits and subsequent adjustments to benefits is done in six large Program Service Centers located around the country.

The two main positions in Program Service Centers have long been Claims Authorizers and Benefits Authorizers. Claims Authorizers, now sometimes called claims specialists, establish initial benefits for program recipients. Benefits Authorizers process complicated changes of entitlements to existing beneficiaries, including life events, overpayments, underpayments, and so forth. The claims position is the higher-ranking of the two and initially required a college degree whereas the post-entitlement position did not. For decades, post-entitlement actions have been processed through a system known as Manual Adjustment, Credit and Award Processes (MADCAP).

The six service centers are:

They have been located in these six cities going back to at least the early 1950s. The origins of the payment centers date back to 1942, when they were known as Area Offices. The first one was established in Philadelphia, with ones in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and New Orleans, Louisiana soon following.

In addition, there are specialized processing centers for the Office of Earnings and International Operations and the Office of Disability Operations, both located in Baltimore.

Form SSA-101 in 1978
Form SSA-101 was the central form used in Program Services Centers for indicating initial entitlement to benefits
Form SSA-2795 in 1978
Form SSA-2795 was the central form used in Program Services Centers for changing entitlements to benefits

Before the mid-1970s, the Program Service Centers were called Payment Centers. By the late 1960s, the Payment Centers had acquired a reputation as sources of poor bureaucratic performance that people did not want to work in, and a reorganization under a modules system was undertaken during the 1970s in an effort to improve matters. Each module would be assigned a certain block of social security numbers and it would process all aspects of a claim, from initial entitlement through various changes, notifications to beneficiaries, and so forth. Decades later, the modules system was still seen as one of the great improvements in SSA processing.

The centers have each employed around two thousand people or more, giving them a major local economic impact, and even relocations within the same metropolitan area have created political conflict. When in the early 1970s, SSA and the General Services Administration said it intended to move payment center operations out of San Francisco and across the East Bay to Richmond, the move was opposed by San Francisco-representing Congressman Phillip Burton. Burton's efforts were in vain, however, as construction in a redevelopment area in Richmond commenced and the move was made around 1975.

Similarly, in the late 1970s, SSA, the General Services Administration, and the Carter administration devised a plan to move the program service center from its main location, in two leased buildings on Horace Harding Expressway in Lefrak City in Rego Park, to a new federal building planned for a revitalization zone in the center of the Jamaica area of Queens. The move was championed by Congressman Joseph P. Addabbo, who represented Jamaica and whose district would gain the over 2,000 federal workers involved, but was opposed by Congressman Benjamin Rosenthal, whose district would lose them. According to Rosenthal, the potential negative impact of the move affected the Elmhurst and Corona neighborhoods most strongly. The move was also supported by Representative Geraldine Ferraro, another powerful Queens figure, who sat on the House Public Works Committee. The dispute was aired in Congressional hearings and embroiled Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and developer Richard Lefrak, supporting and opposing the move respectively, as well. In the event, the move went forward and the new, 11-story building in Jamaica – by then named the Joseph P. Addabbo Federal Building, as the congressman had died in the interim – opened in 1988.


Mid-Atlantic Social Security Center view of NW corner 2019
The Mid-Atlantic Program Services Center in Philadelphia

SSA's coverage under the Social Security Acts originally extended to nearly all workers in the continental U.S. and the territories of Alaska, Hawaii, Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands below the age of 65. All workers in interstate commerce and industry were required to enter the program, except railroad, state and local government workers. In 1939, the age restriction for entering Social Security was eliminated.

Railroad workers were covered by the Railroad Retirement Board before Social Security was founded. Today, 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". The original 218 interstate instrumentalities were signed in the 1950s, and all states have a Section 218 agreement with the federal government's Social Security Administration. The Social Security Handbook defines an "interstate instrumentality". The provisions of Section 218 of the Social Security Act and the instrumentalities agreement and subsequent modifications determine Social Security and Medicare benefits or Medicare-only coverage for state and local government employees enrolled in state and local government retirement systems. All state and local government employees hired since 1986, or whom are covered by Section 218 Agreements, participate in Medicare even if not covered by Social Security financial benefits. To see 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. Some state and local governments continue to maintain pension plans and have not executed Section 218 agreements; if so, those workers may not participate in Social Security taxation. (If workers have previously paid appropriate Social Security taxation or an equivalent, 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.)

Old age, survivors and disability

SSA administers the retirement, survivors, and disabled social insurance programs, which can provide monthly benefits to aged or disabled workers, their spouses and children, and to the survivors of insured workers. In 2010, more than 54 million Americans received approximately $712 billion in Social Security benefits. The programs are primarily financed by taxes which employers, employees, and the self-insured pay annually. These revenues are placed into a special trust fund. These programs are collectively known as Retirement, Survivors, Disability Insurance (RSDI).

SSA administers its disability program partly through its Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR), which has regional offices and hearing offices across the United States. ODAR publishes a manual, called HALLEX, which contains instructions for its employees regarding how to implement its guiding principles and procedures.

The RSDI program is the primary benefits program administered by the U.S. federal government, and for some beneficiaries is the vital source of income. Increasing access to this benefit program for low-income or homeless individuals is one of SSA's goals. SSA is a member of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness and works with other municipal, county, state, local and federal partners to increase access and approval for SSI/SSDI benefits who are eligible.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

Social Security Administration Offices, 3971 South Research Park Drive, Ann Arbor, Michigan - panoramio
An SSA field office in Ann Arbor, Michigan

SSA also administers the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, which is needs-based, for the aged, blind, or disabled. This program originally went under two separate names, Old Age Assistance (originally Title I of the Social Security Act of 1935), and Disability Assistance (added in 1946). In 1973, these assistance programs were renamed and reassigned to SSA. SSI recipients are paid out of the general revenue of the United States of America. In addition, some states pay additional SSI funds. As of January 2018, over 8 million people receive SSI.

For some claimants, this program is harder to receive than funds from RSDI. To warrant a processing time of anything more than a day and an immediate denial, certain specific criteria must be met, including citizenship status, having less than $2,000.00 in countable financial resources, or having countable income of less than $718.00 per month from any source. Disposal of a financial resource (i.e., a deliberate spend-down to fall under SSI resource ceilings) can prevent a person from receiving SSI benefits for a period up to 36 months. Every person with or without a Social Security Number is eligible to apply. But if a person does not meet any of the above criteria or is not a documented resident of the United States, his or her claim can only be taken on paper and will be immediately denied. Even documented residents with legal permanent resident status after August 1996 are immediately denied unless they meet some or all of the SSI criteria listed above.


The administration of the Medicare program is a responsibility of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, but SSA offices are used for determining initial eligibility, some processing of premium payments, and for limited public contact information. They also administer a financial needs-based program which supplements Medicare Part D program enrollees. This program may be applied for at any time, even previous to enrollment in Part D. It only provides no more than a $40.00 relief for monthly Medicare Part D premiums.


To ensure consistent and efficient treatment of Social Security beneficiaries across its vast bureaucracy, SSA has compiled a giant book known as the Program Operations Manual System (POMS) which governs practically all aspects of SSA's internal operations. POMS describes, in excruciating detail, a huge variety of situations regularly encountered by SSA personnel, and the exact policies and procedures that apply to each situation.


Early SSA accounting operations
IBM tabulating machines in use at SSA circa 1936
A few of the hundreds of keypunch operators SSA employed throughout the late 1930s and into the 1950s

While the establishment of Social Security predated the invention of the modern digital computer, punched 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. As a percentage of assets, the administration costs are 0.39%.


SSA operates its own administrative adjudication system, which has original jurisdiction when claims are denied in part or in full. SSA decisions are issued by Administrative Law Judges and Senior Attorney Adjudicators (supported by about 6,000 staff employees) at locations throughout the United States of the U.S. Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR), who hear and decide challenges to SSA decisions. Dissatisfied claimants can appeal to ODAR's Appeals Council, and if still dissatisfied can appeal to a U.S. District Court.

Over the years, ODAR has developed its own procedural system, which is documented in the Hearings and Appeals Litigation Law Manual (HALLEX). ODAR was formerly known as the Office of Hearings and Appeals (OHA) and, prior to the 1970s, the Bureau of Hearings and Appeals. The name was changed to ODAR in 2007 to reflect the fact that about 75% of the agency's docket consists of disability cases. ODAR also adjudicates disputes relating to retirement claims and has jurisdiction when the paternity of a claimant or the validity of a marriage is at issue when a claim is filed for benefits under the earnings record of a spouse or parent. The agency also adjudicates a limited number of Medicare claim issues, which is a residual legacy from when SSA was part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Baby name popularity report

Each year, just before Mother's Day, SSA releases a list of the names most commonly given to newborn babies in the United States in the previous year, based on applications for Social Security cards. The report includes the 1,000 most common names for both genders. The Popular Baby Names page on the SSA website provides the complete list and allows searches for past years and particular names.

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