10 Facts about Social Security That Might Surprise You

Published on: June 23, 2014

Make sure to understand how Social Security works.When it comes to Social Security, there are a lot of things that you might not know. At times, the SSA (Social Security Administration) may seem like an impassable wall between you and your benefits.

The best way to overcome an obstacle is to know it; so we’ve assembled a list of facts about the SSA that may turn this large, sometimes foreboding entity into an agency for which you will have a better understanding. Some of these facts are of practical use while others are just plain odd.  Hopefully, they’ll take some of the mystery out of Social Security for you.

Fact #1: The First Man to Receive Social Security Benefits

When it was originally signed into law, the Social Security program was envisioned primarily as a means to keep citizens out of poverty when they retired. So, the first person to receive benefits from the program was the first retiree to apply for benefits in January of 1937.

This man, named Ernest Ackerman, was given a whopping lump-sum payment of 17 cents. Adjusted for inflation for 2014, this would be roughly $2.80.

The reason for the low payment? Ackerman had only one paycheck that contributed a total of five cents to the Social Security fund. In the early days, retirees who hadn’t had the chance to pay into the fund for very long were paid lump sums based on their contribution rates since the fund’s inception. It wasn’t until later that the payment of benefits took the form of monthly payments over a period of time.

Fact #2: The SSA Wasn’t Always Called Such

In the original document of the 1935 Social Security Act, the Act provided for the creation of a Social Security Board to oversee the implementation of the Act. When the “SSB” was initially created, it didn’t have any staff, facilities, or budget of its own, and it was independent of the rest of the government at the time. At first, personnel were donated from other, existing agencies and the initial operating budget came from the Federal Emergency Relief Administration.

In 1946, the SSB was re-organized and Arthur Altmeyer, who had been the chairman of the Social Security Board, became the first Commissioner of the SSA.

Fact #3: Congress Pays into Social Security Too

Yes, your duly elected state representatives have to pay into Social Security, the same as you. However, this wasn’t originally the case. Up until January of 1984, members of Congress and others serving the state were part of a different retirement fund system called the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) instead of Social Security.

In 1983, amendments were made to Social Security that made participation in the program mandatory for all federal employees hired after January 1, 1984. So now, any and all civil servants, including the members of Congress, the President, the Vice President, Federal judges and many other political appointees are covered under Social Security, and must pay into the trust fund. This amendment also prohibits states from terminating Social Security coverage for all State and local employees.

Fact #4: Social Security Numbers are NOT Reissued after Death, EVER

In 1936, the SSB began issuing Social Security Numbers to U.S. citizens to track data for the purposes of Social Security, such as how much a person has paid into Social Security and their work history. These numbers help the SSA with their calculations of how much to pay beneficiaries to this day.

However, despite nearly 80 years of assigning new numbers to millions of U.S. citizens, the SSA has yet to reissue a single number since the program’s inception. According to the SSA’s FAQ, the administration has issued over 453.7 million SSNs, with 5.5 million new numbers being added each year. With a nine-digit code, the SSA can issue a total of one billion unique SSNs before they will be forced to alter the current numbering system.

Fact #5: SSDI Accounts for 15% of Social Security Spending

Of every dollar that is contributed to Social Security, less than a penny is put towards the management of the program, 84-85 cents goes to the retirement fund to pay benefits to retired workers, and the rest goes into a special fund for the payment of benefits to the disabled and their families.

Fact #6: Social Security has paid $11.3 Trillion in Benefits between 1937 and 2009

In that same period of time, Social security has received $13.8 trillion in income, much of which is derived not from withholdings from employee paychecks, but from special investments made by the SSA.

However, despite the overall surplus in funds, there were 11 years in which the SSA did not take in enough money to pay benefits to all the recipients of the program. In these few years where the funds were short, Trust Fund bonds were used to cover the difference between earnings and payments.

Fact #7: It is Possible to Receive SSI and SSDI at the Same Time

Many people think that Supplemental Security Income and Social Security Disability Income are mutually exclusive programs. That couldn’t be further from the truth. If you meet certain conditions, you can get both SSI and SSDI simultaneously. However, money from Social Security Disabilitycan affect your eligibility and payment amount for SSI. So it is important to consult with an expert about applying for both programs.

Fact #8: SSDI and Medicare are Managed by Two Different Entities

While Medicare benefits are often thought of as being synonymous with SSDI,  the two programs are run by separate entities.   After being on Social Security Disability benefits for 24 months, a recipient automatically qualifies for Medicare.

SSDI is operated as a part of the SSA’s operations while Medicare is a part of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Fact #9: There is a Limit to How Much Social Security will pay to a Single Household

While any given family member can be eligible for benefits equaling half of your retirement or disability benefit amount, there is a limit to how much money Social Security will pay to you and the rest of your immediate family. While the SSA’s handbook states that the limit varies, the amount is generally between 150 to 180% of your current benefits and is called the Family Maximum Amount.

Fact #10: The SSA.gov Website Just Turned 20

Established in 1994, the SSA.gov website is an online resource for people looking to apply for benefits under Social Security and for people who wish to learn more about the program.

If you want to learn more about Social Security, the SSA website is a great place to start.  For personal, expert advice concerning SSDI specifically, try contacting Disability Experts Of Florida.


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