Social Security: It's More Than Just Retirement Benefits
Most of us when we hear the term, social security, tend to think of the elderly, or get a brief pre-cognitive flash of the days ahead when we, too, will be "older" and consigned to alloting portions of our days filling prescriptions and playing bingo. And so we should. The U.S. social security program, drafted by the Roosevelt administration and passed by congress as the social security act of 1935, was originally known as the old age pension act.
Brought into existence at a time when the American people were still in the throes of the great depression, the social security act provided retirement benefits to elderly individuals who might otherwise have been forced to rely on the generosity and stability of their immediate and extended family members. It was, essentially, an expression of the belief that the country's retirement-age workers should not be left to completely fend for themselves. It was, likewise, a reflection of our then-President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, that the American nation was a single entity, bound in both sincerity as well as obligation, to deliver a minimal level of equity to all its citizens.
The social security act provided a safety net for the elderly. And, today, despite decades-long discussions of potential insolvency, it continues to provide this same net. However, it also does quite a bit more. Today, social security covers more than just retirement benefits for individual workers. It allows widows to receive benefits based on the earnings records of deceased spouses and provides survivors benefits for the minor children of deceased parents. And, last but not least, it provides disability benefits.
After the initial passage of the social security act of 1935, the act was later amended to include provisions for providing benefits to injured and sick workers, based on their disability status. Such benefits were covered under title II of the social security act. However, to provide equal and fair consideration to individuals whose condition was such that they were never able to work, or whose condition made it impossible to work long enough to become insured for title II benefits, title 16 benefits were also established. Today, typically, we simply refer to title II benefits as Social Security Disability and title 16 benefits as SSI, or supplemental security income.
Chances are, if you are younger than thirty, you've never heard of either Social Security Disability or ssi. However, if you've had a friend, acquaintance, or family relation who has become sick or injured and, as a consequence, unable to work, you may be at least a little familiar with the programs and associate them with the broader safety net operated by the social security administration.
The title II and title 16 disability programs administered by the federal government allow individuals who are unable to work the same dignity as retirement-age workers. However, unlike the federal government's "old age pension", qualifying for disability benefits requires more than simply calling the local social security office.
To receive disability benefits, an individual's medical condition must be evaluated to determine whether or not their condition is truly disabling, and also to determine whether or not their condition will last a minimal length of time. To this end, the social security administration has established a multi-component system to accomodate disability applicants.
How does this system work? In many respects, the system is overly complicated, but it essentially works as follows: an individual who cannnot or who can no longer work simply calls their local social security office, informing them of the desire to pursue disability benefits. Once this request has been made, an appointment is made for the purpose of conducting an interview and application. Once an application has been taken, it is sent to a a state-level agency that specializes in making decisions on such claims. At this agency, a person's medical records will both be gathered and evaluated. And after the necessary analysis has been conducted, provided that a person meets the social security administration's standards of eligibility, their claim will be approved and they can then look forward to receiving benefits.
Is the system always this cut and dry? Unfortunately, in many cases, it is not. And, considering how many bureaucratic institutions, including government programs, are run, this is not to be unexpected. Yet, despite this, the title II and title 16 sections of the social security act provide help and needed resources for literally millions of American citizens who are either unable to work or whose condition, starting from an early point in their life, made it quite impossible to ever seek work.
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