Franklin D. Roosevelt

Statement on Signing to the Social Security Act.

August 11, 1939

It will be exactly four years ago on the fourteenth day of this month that I signed the original Social Security Act. As I indicated at that time and on various occasions since that time, we must expect a great program of social legislation, such as is represented in the Social Security Act, to be improved and strengthened in the light of additional experience and understanding. These amendments to the Act represent another tremendous step forward in providing greater security for the people of this country. This is especially true in the case of the federal old age insurance system which has now been converted into a system of old age and survivors' insurance providing life-time family security instead of only individual old age security to the workers in insured occupations. In addition to the worker himself, millions of widows and orphans will now be afforded some degree of protection in the event of his death whether before or after his retirement.

The size of the benefits to be paid during the early years will be far more adequate than under the present law. However, a reasonable relationship is retained between wage loss sustained and benefits received. This is a most important distinguishing characteristic of social insurance as contrasted with any system of flat pensions.

Payment of old age benefits will begin on January 1, 1940, instead of January 1, 1942. Increase in pay-roll taxes, scheduled to take place in January, 1940, is deferred. Benefit payments in the early years are substantially increased.

I am glad that the insurance benefits have been extended to cover workers in some occupations that have previously not been covered. However, workers in other occupations have been excluded. In my opinion, it is imperative that these insurance benefits be extended to workers in all occupations.

The Federal-State system of providing assistance to the needy aged, the needy blind, and dependent children, has also been strengthened by increasing the federal aid. I am particularly gratified that the Federal matching ratio to States for aid to dependent children has been increased from one-third to onehalf of the aid granted. I am also happy that greater Federal contributions will be made for public health, maternal and child welfare, crippled children, and vocational rehabilitation. These changes will make still more effective the Federal-State cooperative relationship upon which the Social Security Act is based and which constitutes its great strength. It is important to note in this connection that the increased assistance the States will now be able to give will continue to be furnished on the basis of individual need, thus affording the greatest degree of protection within reasonable financial bounds.

As regards administration, probably the most important change that has been made is to require that State agencies administering any part of the Social Security Act coming within the jurisdiction of the Social Security Board and the Children's Bureau shall set up a merit system for their employees. An essential element of any merit system is that employees shall be selected on a non-political basis and shall function on a non-political basis.

In 1934 I appointed a committee called the Committee on Economic Security made up of Government officials to study the whole problem of economic and social security and to develop a legislative program for the same. The present law is the result of its deliberations. That committee is still in existence and has considered and recommended the present amendments. In order to give reality and coordination to the study of any further developments that appear necessary I am asking the committee to continue its life and to make active study of various proposals which may be made for amendments or developments to the Social Security Act.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Statement on Signing to the Social Security Act. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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