Administering Social Security: Challenges Yesterday and Today

This year (2010) marks the 75th year since the passage of the Social Security Act. Through the years, the SSA has come up with innovative and ways to meet the challenges. We don’t have enough space on the blog to go over each and every one, so we found a PDF file from the SSA which gets very detailed about each challenge and what process was put into place to overcome the problem. Penned by Carolyn Puckett, “Administering Social Security: Challenges Yesterday and Today,” takes a look at how some of the challenges have been met since 1935. The article is a great look back and shows how the SSA has grown to what it is today.

Highlights from the article:

On Technology in the SSA:
In the 1950s, the United States entered the computer age, and SSA once more was a leader in adopting new technology. In 1950, the Bureau installed its first “high-speed electronic calculator” for claims processing (FSA 1950, 32). In July 1955, the Bureau acquired an IBM 705 II Data Processing System for posting earnings, computing benefits, and reinstating incorrectly reported earnings items (SSA 1960c; SSA 1964b; SSA n.d. b). On July 1, 1956, the earnings posting operation changed from an 80-column IBM punched card and the IBM 407 Accounting Machine to electronic data processing equipment which stored information on magnetic tape using a binary code. One reel of magnetic tape could hold the information from almost 32,400 punched cards, and the Summary Card File alone had 120 million records to be converted to tape (SSA 1960c, 20–21).

On Improving Disability Determination:
In September 2003, Commissioner Barnhart announced a Disability Process Improvement project. Changes included accelerating the transition to electronic recordkeeping, with rollout to begin in January 2004; updating the medical listings of definitions of impairments that SSA finds severe enough for a finding of disability; and improving the hearing and appeals processes (SSA 2003, 16). The agency also established a “Quick Disability Determination” process for DDSs to expedite initial determinations for claimants who are clearly disabled.

On Internet Social Security Disability Claims:
SSA also hopes that by providing Internet tools, the public will increasingly be able to help themselves. In December 2008, SSA launched the new version of its online Internet claims process, called iClaim. A marketing campaign starring actress Patty Duke accompanied the launch. The online share of retirement applications increased from 26 percent to 35 percent in less than 1 month, and the online share of disability claims increased from 14 percent to 21 percent. SSA hopes to increase these percentages in 2010 to 38 percent and 25 percent, respectively (Astrue 2009).

Check out the whole article here.