Social Security Law and Legal Definition

Social security is designed as safety net national insurance system to protect individuals from financial distress caused by unforeseen catastrophes. 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 social security benefits under the act are most often associated with old age, survivors, and disability insurance, in its broadest sense, they also includes federally funded welfare programs and unemployment compensation.

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. An employer who fail to deduct the required employee's share of these taxes makes that employer liable for the full amount. Once an individual has qualified for protection, certain other family members are, as well. Financial need is not a requirement.

While the Social Security Act (federal law) governs an applicant's right to benefits, state law governs some of the family relationship issues that may affect a person's rights of entitlement under the act, such as the validity of a marriage.