Social Security U.S.A.-- The Program & Its Administration


 computer console


AMONG the archeological finds of recent years was a cache of clay tablets--the complete operating records of a shipping company that went out of business at least 2000 years ago.

Two thousand years from now, the stainless steel capsule sealed within the cornerstone of the Social Security Building in 1959 may be unearthed with its record of how the social security program operated in 1959. But that description of operations, prepared just a few years ago, is already out of date.

In the centuries between the clay tablets of the ancient shipping company and today, there have been several revolutions in the methods of performing office or clerical operations. And today, we are in the midst of an office revolution that may make the typewriters and business machines of the first half of the 20th century seem equally antique.

The task of social security recordkeeping began as a big operation--one that many skeptics said was an impossible undertaking. Preliminary estimates were that 26 million individual social security accounts would have to be set up before the end of 1937--the first year of the program's operation. Actually, over 33 million accounts were established during that period. By the end of 1963, the number of accounts had grown to over 150 million, of which about 75 million are active in any one year.

To handle this mass of records quickly, efficiently, and economically, right from the beginning extensive use was made of punched card and micro-film equipment and of modern business machines. In fact, some business machines now in common use were practically born on social security premises.

In the years since, the working population has increased, the coverage of the program has been extended to many more occupations, and the number of persons receiving monthly benefit payments has grown astronomically--from 250,000 in 1940, the year when benefits first became payable, to 20,000,000 in 1964.

With these increases in workloads has come a need for greater speed and accuracy and for the delegation of more of the routine jobs from men and women to machines. Fortunately, as the recordkeeping and benefit payment operations increased in size and complexity, new electronic equipment capable of handling more complex clerical routines graduated from the drawing board.

photo of visible index

photo of microfilm

National Employee Index

The National Employee Index, arranged according to an alphabetic soundex code, is used as a cross reference to social security earnings records which are set up in order of social security account number. The Index is referred to, for example, when a worker who has lost his card applies for a duplicate. (About 3.9 million duplicate cards are issued each year.)

The National Employee Index now contains 200 million names for the more than 150 million people to whom social security account numbers have been issued since 1936. (70 percent of the women are listed under both their married and maiden names.)

photo of microfilm reader

Until 1958, the names were typed on flexible strips inserted in metal panels and hung on racks like pages in a book. With 119 names to a panel and 1,600 panels to a rack, the mammoth file took up a city block of floor space. It was growing at the rate of about 3 million names a year and required 6,000 additional square feet of space every 12 months.

In 1958 the Index was microfilmed. Since then, all new names are listed on magnetic tape and then converted to microfilm by means of the Special Microfilm Printer. The Special Microfilm Printer transcribes coded data directly from magnetic tape into a readable microfilm record.

The 200 million names in the National Employee Index are contained on 2005 reels of magnetic tape. These reels, divided among about 90 "stations," are referred to by means of high-speed microfilm readers.

In 1956, the Social Security Administration installed the first large-scale computer to maintain records of earnings and to compute the benefits payable to workers and their families when they retire, become disabled, or die. Electronic data processing equipment has also been used for several years in the benefit payment operations and in the maintenance of the beneficiary rolls.

An integrated data processing system is now being developed to link the earnings record operations with the benefit-paying operations. When this integrated data processing system is put into full effect sometime in 1965, it will cover the entire range of operations, from the initial establishment of a social security account, through maintenance of a lifetime earnings record, to the initial adjudication of a claim, the payment of benefits and subsequent changes in the benefit rolls. The fully integrated data processing system of the future will enable the Social Security Administration to handle a greatly increased volume of work, to gather more quickly the information needed for claims decisions, and to solve the problems of distance inherent in a decentralized organization with nationwide responsibilities.

office scene

The seven payment centers, located in key cities in the U.S., act as reviewing offices and make the formal determinations as to entitlement to benefits. They also keep the benefit rolls up to date and accurate.

Old-age and survivors insurance claims and beneficiaries are divided among the six payment centers located in New York, Philadelphia, Birmingham, Chicago, Kansas City, and San Francisco. The seventh payment center, located at the Social Security Building in Baltimore, handles all disability claims and maintains the roll of disability beneficiaries. The Baltimore payment center also keeps the roll of beneficiaries who live abroad.

At the payment center, claims forwarded by the district offices are reviewed to see that all necessary applications have been properly completed; that all the evidence needed for the claim has been obtained; that all requirements set by law have been met; and that all benefit amounts have been figured correctly. If the claimant is found to be entitled to benefits, the claim is approved and the Treasury Department is notified that payment should be made.

The payment centers authorize the Treasury Department to issue the beneficiary's first benefit check and every succeeding monthly benefit check he will receive. During 1964 the payment of an average of 20 million benefit payments will be certified each month and about 880,000 changes will be made in the roll of benefits each month as new beneficiaries are added and as others change their addresses, have their benefits suspended because of earnings, or must be taken off the rolls because of death, remarriage, or other reasons.

photo of people at desk

The Social Security Administration has 613 district offices located throughout the 50 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

These offices have representatives who visit outlying areas to serve people who live at a distance from the city or town in which the district office is located. These regularly scheduled visits are made to some 3,000 locations called contact stations.

If necessary, a field representative will go to the home of anyone who is unable to visit the social security office because of illness or infirmity.

It is here at the district office level that the full cycle of services originates . . . from account number to benefit. The district office is the place where a person gets his social security account number, where he can check on his earnings record, where he can get full information about his and his family's rights under the social security law, and where, eventually, he or his family will file a claim for old-age, survivors, or disability insurance benefits.

Each district office also carries on an extensive information program aimed at a better public understanding of old-age, survivors, and disability insurance. Booklets, posters, speeches before groups and organizations, newspaper and magazine articles, special exhibits, radio and television programs--these are some of the media used to tell people what they need to know about social security.

man in neck brace interviewed by woman

Because entitlement to disability benefits (or to childhood disability benefits) involves a determination of disability, there are important additional steps in the processing of a disability claim.

The social security district office gives the disabled applicant information about his rights, helps him to file his application and to get proofs and documents he may need to support that application. The disabled person is required to obtain the medical evidence needed to show the extent of his disability. This medical evidence can be supplied either by his attending physician or by a hospital, institution, public or private agency where he has been treated for his disabling condition.

The social security district office does not, however, evaluate his disability.

After the disabled person has made his application for benefits and supplied the supporting evidence, the folder on his case is transferred to the agency of his State designated in the agreement between the State and the Federal Government. In most States the designated agency is the State vocational rehabilitation agency.

Determinations of disability are made by "review teams" in the State agencies. There are at least two professional people on each team. One is a doctor of medicine; the other is a person trained in evaluating the personal and vocational aspects of disability such as age, education, and work experience.

The physician member of the State agency evaluation team is often a practicing physician who serves with the State agency on a part-time basis. In the larger State agencies, the reviewing physicians may be under the supervision of a medical consultant.
five men sitting around table