Q&A: The History of Social Security Disability

The Social Security Disability system you’re familiar with has evolved over decades of legislative actions and judicial decisions in our country. The history of Social Security disability is a long and winding one, with many obstacles overcome in order to reach the program’s current standing. Though the early years of Social Security disability don’t line up with what we know it to be today, it gives important insight into the challenging, often controversial, beginnings of this program. To help you learn more about Social Security history facts, we’ve answered some of the most common questions below.

Social Security History Facts

Q: How did the concept of disability benefits originate?

A: Even before it was introduced to the United States, insurance to protect individuals with old age, sickness and injuries were common in Europe as early as 1930. Though social workers and social scientists had advocated for similar programs in America, they were met with suspicion and skepticism up until the beginning of the Great Depression.

Q: When was Social Security disability established?

A: Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) was officially established in 1956, though the concept began many years prior, beginning in the 1930s and 1940s.

Official talks began with the Social Security Act of 1935, which targeted retirement insurance, but it also stood to recognize hardships created by the loss of wages due to disability and took into consideration whether to offer benefits to these workers.

Support for disability benefits was split, with some favoring immediate introduction of benefits and others needing further study, concerned about high costs and proof of disability, especially during the challenges of the Great Depression. Ultimately, medical professionals would need to become involved in the program, which is how we know it today.

Q: Under which U.S. president was SSDI implemented?

A: President Dwight Eisenhower signed the 1956 amendment into law, officially establishing the SSDI program. In 1960, he approved the updating of this amendment to allow disabled employees of any age to receive benefits payments.

Q: What did disability benefits include at inception?

A: Benefits were offered to insured, disabled workers whose ages were between 50 and 65. It was also offered to disabled children (up to age 18) of insured workers who were retired or deceased.

Q: Were there limitations to disability benefits?

A: There were several provisions in the 1956 establishment of Social Security disability benefits, including the following:

  • 6-month waiting period for receipt of benefits
  • Benefit offset if the worker received other worker’s compensation benefits
  • Proof of recent and substantial work

Q: How was disability defined?

A: Disability was originally defined by the 1954 amendment as: “the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or to be of long-continued and indefinite duration.

In 1965, this definition was amended – the phrase “long-continued and indefinite duration” was substituted with the requirement that the medical condition is “expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” This updated verbiage grew the number of recipients substantially since it changed the disability requirements and what was considered to be a medical condition or disability.

Q: Could spouses qualify for benefits at the time?

A: Beginning in 1967, the Social Security Administration (SSA) agreed to provide benefits support to disabled widows and widowers 50 or older who had proven an inability to engage in substantial gainful activity. Though the eligibility requirements have changed over time, there are still circumstances that provide financial support to survivors of disability recipients.

Q: How did Supplemental Security Income (SSI) come into play?

A: Though very similar to SSDI benefits, SSI is the other part of the Social Security disability system, which began in 1969. This program was started to aid other federal welfare programs, including disability support, and help ease the pressure of heightening the minimum benefit payout while encouraging recipients to make contributions. Both programs ultimately functioned under the same definition of “disability.”

Contact the Disability Attorneys at Woodruff & Mathis

As these Social Security history facts have shown, disability programs are constantly evolving, being examined and refined to meet citizens’ needs. Social Security disability is essential to millions of Americans whose lives have been uprooted by medical conditions; in fact, there are more than 2.6 million disabled workers utilizing this much-needed supplemental income.

If you’d like to learn more about the Social Security disability program and have questions about your own disability case, contact us today to speak with our disability attorneys at Woodruff & Mathis.