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What is the Social Security Administration?

By Michelle Burton
Updated May 23, 2024
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The United States Social Security Administration (SSA) is an independent government agency that administers social programs. Its main function is to administer Social Security, a government program providing for the economic welfare of the individual through payments to people who are retired, unemployed, or unable to work. The United States Social Security program gets its funding from mandatory contributions from employers, employees, and the self-employed.

There are three major Social Security programs: social security retirement, social security survivors, and social security disability. The Social Security Administration oversees distributing social security benefits for the three major programs. When individuals reach age 62, they are eligible to apply for social security benefits.

The SSA will determine how much the individual will receive each month based on age at the time of application and contribution. It also has the task of determining the monthly amount to be paid to survivors of deceased workers under the survivors program, and the amount disabled workers are entitled to under the disability program. The monthly social security benefit is based on both spouses’ income while they were employed and the worker’s earning history, respectively.

While the SSA administers most major social security programs, there are some that it does not. Medicare is one of the most popular insurance programs for older adults, but the Social Security Administration does not administer it. Medicare is a federal program that helps seniors pay for health costs. Funds for the program come, in part, from social security taxes, so most Americans mistakenly believe that the SSA is responsible for running the program. The program is financed by general revenue, premiums, and part of the taxes paid into social security; it is administered by the United States government and each state sets its own guidelines.

The Social Security Act (42 U.S.C.A. § 301 et seq.) of 1935 established the Social Security Program on a federal level. Prior to this, Social Security only existed at the state level. Also in 1935, the Social Security Act assembled a Social Security Board to help implement and monitor the program. In 1946, under President Harry S. Truman’s Reorganization plan, the Social Security Board was renamed the Social Security Administration.

A commissioner heads the Social Security Administration and it currently operates under the US Department of Health and Human Services. It is the largest subdivision of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), consisting of approximately 62,000 employees, working in a total of 10 regional offices, 6 processing centers, and 1,300 field offices. The central office is located in Baltimore, Maryland.

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Discussion Comments
By anon1004561 — On Mar 06, 2021

I heard that I owed back child support for kids that I never had or stepchild that for sure I don't have.

By anon350865 — On Oct 09, 2013

I am nearing the hearing with ALJ and its been very stressful, financially and of course mentally and physically. I've heard that once (if) you're awarded the the judgment in your favor, that's great, but and this the hard part for me. I have heard that if you owe back child support, can they take it? I've heard they cannot touch it if you're getting SSDI, or is it SSI, Now I am confused. Please help me understand.

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