The Social Security System

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 What Is the Social Security System (“SSS”), and What is its Purpose?

The Social Security Act (“SSA”) is a federal law that was passed in 1935. This law created a program called the The Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance program, or OASDI. OASDI is the technical name for the Social Security program, although many refer to it simply as social security. This program, which is run by the federal government, provides social security benefits to eligible individuals. Additionally, the program is funded by the withholding of social security taxes from current employees’ paychecks.

Social security is often referred to as a “pay as you go” system. What this means is that the program pays benefits from funds collected from working people. When these working people retire, their benefits will be paid out of the funds that have been collected from individuals who are working at that time.

Social security benefits are available for four types of individuals:

  • Retirees;
  • Disabled individuals;
  • Individuals who are eligible for supplemental security income; and
  • Individuals whose spouses passed away while receiving social security benefits.

In short, the purpose of the social security system is to:

  • Provide for the material needs of both families and individuals;
  • Protect senior and/or disabled people against the various expenses of illnesses that could otherwise deplete their finances and savings;
  • Keep families together whenever possible; and
  • Provide children with an additional opportunity to grow up healthy and financially secure.

Some examples of the programs that are included under the SSA and related laws include, but are not limited to:

  • Retirement, survivors, and disability insurance;
  • Hospital and medical insurance for the aged, disabled, and those experiencing end-stage renal disease;
  • Prescription drug benefits, as well as additional assistance with Medicare prescription drug costs;
  • Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”); and
  • Public assistance and welfare services, such as child support enforcement and food stamps.

What Is an SSN, and Does Everyone Have a Social Security Number?

A social security number is a nine-digit number that is issued to American citizens, generally when they are born. However, a social security number may also be issued to permanent residents as well as temporary residents, pursuant to section 205 of the Social Security Act. It was originally intended to track the earnings history of U.S. workers for social security benefits. A social security number is now used as a universal identifier for a person’s records.

Having a social security number is necessary in order to claim tax benefits, as well as to perform a number of other activities. An example of this would be how if you want to claim your child as a dependent on your income tax return, you need a social security number to do so. The child must have a social security number if you plan on:

  • Buying savings bonds for the child;
  • Opening a bank account for the child;
  • Obtaining health insurance for the child; and/or
  • Applying for government benefits for the child.

In terms of age requirements, there is no official age by which a person must obtain a social security number. However, those who work and who are 18 or over must have one. This is because their employer is required to report their income to the IRS, which is done by using the social security number.

Individuals may receive a social security card before they turn 18, as many parents obtain the card for their children when the child is born. When parents provide information to the hospital for completion of the birth certificate, the hospital will ask if the parent wishes to apply for a social security number for the baby. Parents who wish to do so must usually provide both parent’s social security numbers.

Alternatively, a parent may apply for a children’s number at their local Social Security Office. This requires completing a social security card application and presenting sufficient proof in the form of documentation that shows the child is a citizen. This proof must also verify the child’s age and identity.

Those who are aged twelve years and older may request a social security number for themselves. SSA will schedule an in-person interview for them, and they must complete the interview as well as provide any required documentation.

What Are Social Security Benefits?

Social security benefits generally refer to monthly payments that are received by eligible individuals. The most common form of social security benefits are retirement benefits, which individuals may apply for as early as age 62. The amount of benefits to be awarded is based on how many work credits an individual has obtained over the course of their working life.

Generally speaking, in order to be entitled to benefits, an individual must have earned 40 credits. 40 credits translate to roughly 10 years of full-time work. They will receive the maximum benefit amount when they turn 67, if they were born in 1960 or later. Those who were born prior to 1937 will receive the maximum benefit amount at age 65.

People between the age of 62 and the age in which they are eligible for the full amount of benefits, may continue to work and still receive benefits. However, if their earnings exceed a specific dollar limit, the amount of benefit payments they receive will be reduced. If someone reaches full retirement age, they can generally work and still receive the entirety of their benefit amount.

Three additional types of Social Security Benefits include:

  • Social Security Disability Benefits: If you have worked for a sufficient amount of time and have paid Social Security taxes on your income, you and some of your family members are eligible for benefits through the Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) program. In order to qualify for these benefits, a person must have a disability as defined by the Social Security Administration. Eligible individuals are generally those who are unable to work for one year or more due to their disability;
  • Supplemental Security Income: This federal income program known as SSI pays benefits to those who are aged, blind, and disabled, and who have no income or have insufficient income to qualify for retirement or SSDI benefits. The SSI program is not funded by social security taxes; rather, it is funded through general tax revenue that is received by the government. Eligible people must present evidence of disability and income, if any; and
  • Survivors Benefits: These are benefits that a family member may receive if you die. Those who work and pay social security taxes have a portion of those taxes set aside for payment of survivors benefits. Spouses, children, and parents of a decedent who was eligible for benefits may receive benefits upon their death. The amount of benefits will depend upon what your earnings were during your working life. If your spouse dies, and at the time of death is receiving retirement or disability benefits, you may be entitled to receive the benefits to which your spouse was entitled.

What Should I Do if I Have Been Denied Social Security Benefits?

Those who apply for social security benefits may have their application denied by the Social Security Administration. However, those who are denied have the right to appeal that denial. The appeal process is generally as follows:

  • Reconsideration: A person may request reconsideration if they have been denied benefits, which will initiate a complete review. The review will be conducted by someone who played no part in the initial decision. During reconsideration, Social Security examines the original application, as well as any new evidence;
  • Hearing By an Administrative Law Judge: Should you disagree with the reconsideration decision, you can request a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. Before the hearing takes place, Social Security may request that you submit additional evidence, or clarify certain claim information. At the hearing, the judge will question you and any witnesses, including medical witnesses. The hearing is generally conducted in person; as such, claimants who are unable or unwilling to attend an in-person hearing must notify Social Security. Once the hearing is concluded, the judge will render a decision regarding the social security case; and/or
  • Lawsuit Against the Social Security Administration: If you do not agree with the judge’s decision, you may then file a lawsuit in federal court against the Social Security Administration.

Do I Need an Attorney for Help with a Social Security Matter?

Social security matters can quickly become complicated. If you are experiencing issues associated with social security, especially if you believe you have been wrongfully denied benefits, you should consult with an experienced local social security administration attorney or a social security lawyer.

An attorney can help you file a claim and gather evidence to support your case. Finally, an attorney will also be able to represent you at any appeal hearings, administrative hearings, or in court.

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