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. Previously operating under the Department of Health and Human Services, the SSA has operated as a wholly independent agency since 1994.

Key Takeaways

  • The Social Security Administration (SSA) is the organization that oversees and runs the Social Security program in the United States.
  • The benefits administered include social security retirement income and disability income programs, among others.
  • The SSA is also responsible for issuing Social Security numbers, administering benefits, and managing the program's finances and trust fund. Every year it issues a financial report.

Understanding the Social Security Administration

Social Security is a vital part of the retirement income planning strategy of many Americans, particularly as savings rates remain low. However, the breadth of services the SSA provides spans many vital areas of the U.S. social safety net. For example, in January 2020, about 64 million Americans, including retired workers, disabled workers, and survivors, received over one trillion dollars in Social Security benefits, according to the SSA.

The benefits are funded with payroll taxes of employers, employees, and the self-employed. The SSA administers the Social Security program, arguably one of the most successful agencies in the history of the U.S. government. The annual net cost of Social Security comes in at approximately $280.9 billion as of 2020, which is roughly 16.5% of all government spending, according to USAspending.gov.

Unlike the majority of U.S. federal government agencies, the SSA is not headquartered in Washington, DC. 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 2035; the Disability Insurance (DI) Trust Fund is projected for depletion by 2052.