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. 401 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). Since the establishment of the Medicare program in 1965, it and Social Security have been closely linked. While the original act used "Social Security" in a broader sense, including federally funded welfare programs and unemployment compensation within its scope, and the Medicare legislature took the form of amendments to that act, current usage associates the phrase with old age, survivors, and disability insurance.
The Federal Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) program 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 family members are, as well. Financial need is not a requirement but continuing to earn substantial sums is inconsistent with eligibility for certain benefits (disability insurance) and can reduce the benefit amount with others (including retirement or survivors benefits).
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.