Social Security Administration (SSA)

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, among other services. It is also responsible for issuing Social Security numbers and managing the program’s finances and trust fund.

Key Takeaways

  • The Social Security Administration (SSA) oversees and runs the Social Security program in the United States.
  • Benefits that the SSA administers include Social Security retirement income and disability income programs, among others.
  • The SSA is also responsible for issuing Social Security numbers and managing the program’s finances and trust funds.

Understanding the Social Security Administration

The SSA administers the Social Security program. Social Security is a vital part of the retirement income planning strategy of many Americans, particularly as savings rates remain low—7.1% in October and 6.9 percent in November 2021. The drop reflects the winding down of pandemic-related assistance programs, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA).

However, the breadth of services the SSA provides spans many vital areas of the U.S. social safety net. In December 2021, for example, nearly 70 million Americans, including retired workers, disabled workers, and survivors, received Social Security benefits, according to the SSA. Social Security is one of the largest government programs in the world.

The benefits are funded with payroll taxes of employers, employees, and the self-employed. The tax revenue goes into two Social Security trust funds—the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) Trust Fund for retirees and the Disability Insurance Trust Fund (DI) for disability beneficiaries—which pay benefits to people eligible for them. 

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, six processing centers, and approximately 1,230 field offices in cities across the country. It employs over 60,000 workers.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all local Social Security offices remain closed for walk-in service, though in-person appointments may be scheduled by phone in advance.

Social Security Administration Services

The SSA has seen numerous name changes and operational revisions during the course of its existence as different administrations have shaped the agency. In addition to overseeing retirement and disability benefits programs, the SSA provides a wide range of services, including determining citizen eligibility and premium payments for the Medicare program.

It also administers the granting of Social Security numbers (SSNs), which have become a de facto national identification number that must be provided to access numerous services, such as credit, insurance coverage, and even hunting licenses.

History of the Social Security Administration

The Social Security Administration was created in 1935 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law. Previously operating under the Department of Health and Human Services, the SSA has operated as a wholly independent agency since 1994.

In July 2021, President Biden fired SSA commissioner Andrew Saul and appointed Kilolo Kijakazi, deputy commissioner for retirement and disability policy at the SSA, as acting commissioner. Saul was criticized for efforts to reduce access to disability benefits, delays in providing the information needed to issue stimulus payments, and clashing with employee unions over safety planning during the COVID-19 crisis.

The SSA is an independent agency and Saul was appointed until January 2025, but two Supreme Court rulings have given presidents greater authority to remove appointees. One, on June 29, 2020, determined that President Trump was free to fire the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), and a second, on June 23, 2021, authorized President Biden to remove the chief of the Federal Housing Administration (FHA).

Social Security Administration: Annual Report

Every year, the board of trustees of Social Security issues a report on the current and projected financial status of the SSA's programs. Per the 2021 report, the Social Security Board of Trustees forecasts that the reserves of the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund (OASI) will become depleted in 2033 (versus 2034 per the 2020 report), due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic that led to reduced employment and earnings. At that time, the continuing tax income will be enough to pay 76% of scheduled benefits going forward. The report also forecasts that the Disability Insurance Trust Fund (DI) will dry up in 2057 (versus the 2065 estimate in the 2020 report).

The report recommends that: “Lawmakers should address these financial challenges as soon as possible. Taking action sooner rather than later will permit consideration of a broader range of solutions and provide more time to phase in changes so that the public has adequate time to prepare.”

What Programs Does the Social Security Administration Oversee?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) oversees the Social Security program, which provides benefits for qualified retirees, disabled people, and their spouses, children, and survivors. The SSA also provides a wide range of services, such as establishing citizen eligibility and premium payments for Medicare and issuing Social Security numbers.

What Is the Difference Between Supplemental Security Income and Social Security?

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) provides monthly cash distributions to elderly or disabled people who have little to no income to help them meet their basic needs. This program is separate from the retirement and disability benefits that Social Security administers.

How Do I Replace My Social Security Card?

If you need to replace your Social Security card, with no other changes, you can request a new card online at the Social Security website. You can also fill out a print version of the application and return it via mail.

Article Sources

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  2. Social Security Administration. "Social Security Number and Card."

  3. Bureau of Economic Analysis. “Personal Income and Outlays, September 2021.”

  4. Social Security Administration. "Monthly Statistical Snapshot, October 2021."

  5. Social Security Administration. "OASI Trust Fund, A Social Security Fund."

  6. Social Security Administration. "Organizational Structure of the Social Security Administration."

  7. Social Security Administration. "Conducting Business with Social Security During the Pandemic."

  8. Social Security Administration. "Medicare Benefits."

  9. Social Security Administration. "Social Security History."

  10. Supreme Court of the United States. "Seila Law LLC v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau."

  11. Supreme Court of the United States. "Collins, et al. vs. Yellen, Secretary of the Treasury, et al."

  12. Social Security Administration. "A Summary of the 2021 Annual Reports."

  13. Social Security Administration. "What Is Supplemental Security Income?"

  14. Social Security Administration. "Request a Replacement Social Security Number (SSN) Card Online."

  15. Social Security Administration. "Application for a Social Security Card,"

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