social security law: an overview
Social security is designed, as the title suggests, to provide security. To protect individuals from unforeseen catastrophes, the government spreads certain risks among all members of society so that no single family bears the full burden of such occurrences.
In the United States, the Social Security Program was created in 1935 (42 U.S.C. 301 et seq.) to provide old age, survivors, and disability insurance benefits to workers and their families. Unlike welfare, social security benefits are paid to an individual or his or her family at least in part on the basis of that person's employment record and prior contributions to the system. The program is administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA) and since 1965 it has included health insurance benefits under the Medicare program. While the original act used Social Security in a broad sense and included federally funded welfare programs and unemployment compensation within its scope, current usage associates the phrase with old age, survivors, and disability insurance.
The Federal Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) pays out monthly benefits to retired people, to families whose wage earner has died, and to workers unemployed due to sickness or accident. Workers qualify for its protection by having been employed for a minimum amount of time and by having made contributions to the program. Once an individual has qualified for protection, certain other familymembers are, as well. Financial need is not a requirement.
While the Social Security Act (federal law) governs an applicant's right to benefits, state substantive law governs some of the family relationship issues that may bear on that right such as the validity of a marriage.
For greater detail on all these points visit the LII's Social Security Library.