What Is the Social Security Administration (SSA)?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) is a U.S. government agency that administers social programs covering disability, retirement, and survivors' benefits. It was created in 1935 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to administer the social insurance programs in the United States. Previously operating under the Department of Health and Human Services, the SSA has operated as a wholly independent agency since 1994.

Understanding Social Security Administration (SSA)

Social Security is a vital part of the retirement income planning strategy of many Americans, especially as savings rates remain low. But the breadth of services the SSA provides spans many vital areas of the U.S. social safety net. For example, the Social Security Administration provides benefits to over 50 million orphaned children, the disabled (and their spouses and children) and the aged in the amount of over $700 billion per year. Such benefits are funded with payroll taxes of employers, employees, and the self-employed. The Social Security Administration administers the Social Security program, arguably one of the most successful agencies in the history of the United States government. The annual net cost of Social Security comes in at approximately $1 trillion as of 2018, or about 15% of all government spending, according to USAspending.gov. By 2024, Social Security as a share of total federal spending is expected to be approximately 28%.

Unlike the majority of U.S. federal government agencies, the SSA is not headquartered in Washington, D.C. Instead, the agency is based in the city of Woodlawn, MD, which is a suburb of Baltimore. In all, the Social Security Administration has 10 regional offices, several processing centers, more than a thousand field offices in cities across the country, and over three dozen telephone service centers. It employs over 60,000 workers and frequently ranks well in government job ratings.

Social Security Administration Services

The SSA has seen numerous name changes and operational revisions in its lifetime, as different administrations have shaped the agency. The SSA provides a wide range of services, including determining citizen eligibility and premium payments for the Medicare program. It administers the granting of Social Security Numbers (SSN), which have become a de-facto national identity number that must be provided to access a number of services, such as credit, insurance coverage and even hunting licenses.

Social Security Administration: Annual Report

Every year, the Boards of Trustees of Social Security and Medicare issue a report on the current and projected financial status of the two programs. Per the 2019 report: "A Summary of the 2019 Annual Reports", trustees wrote that "both Social Security and Medicare face long-term financing shortfalls under currently scheduled benefits and financing."

By 2020, Social Security's program costs will exceed its income, at which point the program will have to start dipping into its nearly $3 trillion trust fund. The Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) Trust Fund is projected to be depleted by 2034; the Disability Insurance (DI) Trust Fund is projected for depletion by 2052.