AMARILLO — Social Security is a daily subject in many lives, but it is still misunderstood by countless Americans, said one Texas Cooperative Extension specialist.
Is it insurance? Does it require a disability? What exactly is Social Security?
These are all questions Andrew B. Crocker, Extension gerontology health specialist said he still hears.
While the program has been through a number of changes over the years, it is still designed to provide supplemental income for older adults, Crocker said.
The program started as a result of the Great Depression, when poverty among Americans was rampant. On Aug. 14, 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed The Social Security Act.
In the original Act, benefits were paid only to the primary worker upon retirement at age 65 based on payroll tax contributions made during the working years.
The Social Security number was established to help track money paid into individual retirement accounts. More than 30 million Americans received numbers in the first round of their being issued.
Through the years, because of congressional amendments, benefits such as cost-of-living increases were added. One of the more familiar changes was the addition of disability benefits in the 1950s.
The 1960s brought about another change. Until this time, Social Security benefits were only available to workers who paid taxes into the system. These benefits came in the form of a monthly payment.
In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Medicare bill into law B creating the nation’s federal health insurance program for older adults. Though Medicare and Social Security are linked, they are separate programs: Social Security is the monthly stipend, Medicare is the health insurance component, Crocker said.
Another change was the establishment of Supplemental Security Income. It is based on financial need and financed through general revenues, rather than being based on work history.
Social Security will continue to evolve to meet the changing needs of older Americans, Crocker said.
Today’s benefit calculations are based on average earnings during a lifetime, he said. For most retirees, the Social Security Administration will average the 35 highest years of earnings. Years with low earnings or no earnings may be counted to get 35 years of earnings, he added.
Currently, the retirement age to receive full benefits is 67 for those born after 1960. An individual may choose to retire at 62, but monthly benefit payments will be reduced, Crocker said.
Those born earlier can see what their retirement age is, as well as the benefit reduction they may sustain if they retire early, at http://www.ssa.gov , the Social Security Administration Web site. The Web site has calculators to help determine monthly benefits. The system is complicated when it comes to issues of spousal earnings, death benefits and disability, Crocker said. These situations are individual to each beneficiary.
For specific information and answers to questions, contact the Social Security Administration directly via the Internet or by phone at (800) 772-1213.