Celebrating Sixty Years of Social Security Disability Insurance

August 1, 2016 • By

Last Updated: August 19, 2021

60th disabilityWhen President Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act in 1935, he saw it as an innovative way to provide economic security for American workers. His advisers also envisioned disability insurance as part of the program, but it was 20 years later when it became a reality.

Today we celebrate this important milestone: 60 years ago, the Social Security Amendments of 1956 established disability insurance as part of Social Security. In the years since then, the disability program has adapted to keep pace with our changing world. For 60 years, Social Security has protected workers and their families in the event of a severe disability.

The disability program provides a critical lifeline to workers and families who lose their income due to the onset of severe, long-term disabilities. Today, about nine million disabled workers and two million of their dependents receive disability benefits from Social Security. Visit our Faces and Facts of Disability page to learn more. Here you can also watch engaging videos and read personal stories from people who rely on this earned benefit.

Social Security is our nation’s most effective poverty prevention program, and disability insurance is a key piece of that. Although the benefits are modest (less than $1,200 per month on average), these payments are the main source of income for most people who receive them. Among disabled workers, 4 out of 5 beneficiaries rely on these benefits for at least half of their income; for more than a third of beneficiaries, it is their only source of income. Social Security disability benefits lift 3 million people out of poverty each year.

To commemorate this milestone, we will host a series of articles about the Social Security disability program on our blog in the coming months. We’ll hear from beneficiaries, historians, stakeholders, and disability experts as they reflect on the program’s history and importance.

I invite you to reflect on the significance of Social Security Disability Insurance in your own life, or in the lives of your loved ones. You can join this conversation by adding your comments below.

We celebrate a very successful first 60 years of the Social Security Disability Insurance program, and look forward to the next 60 and beyond as it continues to protect workers and their families.  Whether at birth or in old age, upon the death of a loved one, or in case of disability, Social Security is with you through life’s journey!


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About the Author

Acting Commissioner of Social Security (February 14, 2013 - January 20, 2017)


  1. Virginia C.

    I would like to know why someone that has SSI draws more money than SS. I have worked for 20 years, and people that have SSI get more money and benefits than someone that has worked many years and paid into the system. It just does not seem right.

    • S T.

      SSI usually pays far less than Social Security, in fact if your SocSec amount is less than the SSI amount for your state and living arrangements, you can get true SSI, Supplemental Security Income, which is what it was invented for in the first place, to supplement low Social Security income. SSI is a poverty program, basically. Social Security, whether retirement or disability, is based on the person’s work history. SSI requires disability and poverty, and is not based on work history.

    • Ray F.

      Retirement and disability (SSDI) benefits are paid based on your earnings and work history. The Supplemental Security Income or SSI program is a needs based program that pays benefits to people with limited income and resources who are disabled, blind, or age 65 or older. There are times when people can receive both SSI and SSDI, depending on their situation and whether they meet the requirements. Please call us at 1-800-772-1213 for more information. Representatives are available Monday through Friday between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Generally, you will have a shorter wait time if you call later in the week.

  2. Debbie

    I have had to rely on disability benefits for many years now. I worked so very hard all my life only to lose everything but ss disability is a life saver. Even though I have nothing, can’t afford to live alone & struggle every day to decide on what I can afford each month because I live in poverty now is just shameful for our country to do this to us. However it is a very good program but it needs to put people like me in a catagory where I don’t have to worry about every single thing. I can’t afford to pay rent & eat, I haven’t bought clothing in over 20 yrs, can’t afford my meds. But I’m told I make to much for food stamps. Tell my tummy that!!! I have to fight all the time w/my dr. about which tests I can afford to have done when I still don’t feel well. It’s a horrible life that I don’t wish on anyone to go through. I was a workaholic & miss it terribly but just can’t. So bless our country for disability benefits no matter how little.

    • Marti

      From what you said, you have drawn Disability Check for more than 2 yrs. That means you should hold a Medicare Health Card, entitled to Pt A and perhaps enrolled in Pt B and you should be qualified for Pt D. You should check into SocSecAdmin Extra Help for Part D drug card. Call national call center for SSA 800-772-1213, ask for someone to take your application over the phone. Have your Dec 2015 letter that shows your Monthly Gross Income from SS. Have any other monthly income written down. Know your total Resource Cash Balance in Cking, CD, 401k, Stocks, Bonds. Know how many Deeds you have, the one deed for your residence will not count against you, but any other extra Deed will be considered a Resource (available to convert to cash upon sale). There is a different guideline for Income/Resources for both Single and Married. If you qualify, the monthly cost of your Part D Drug Card will be paid up to about $37 and you will pay either $1.10 or $2.95 for Generics and either $3.30 or $7.40 for Brand Names. This would be very helpful if you can qualify. Many Beneficiaries who do not qualify for other Medicaid programs often qualify for SSA Extra Help because it allows a higher Qualifying Income/Resources.

      From this one application, you will also be considered for Medicare Savings Plan to pay your Part B Premiums (either $104.90 or $121.80). Then there are about 3 other Medicaid programs with differing Qualifying Incomes. Your local HHS, Community Based Services Office can schedule an appointment to discuss this further by appointment.

      You must learn the names of programs that are giving you assistance. I am an independent insurance agent that spends 16 weeks a year doing advocate work for the lower income Beneficiaries. I do not charge a fee, no Gov’t program pays me, if you receive insurance through a MCO, Managed Care Organization, then they are not allowed by my State to pay me either.

      Many people are trying to help the less fortunate. Some people simply say thank you and that is enough, payment in full for my services.

      Very fortunate, I have not had to ask for financial assistance. Helping others through Advocacy is my way of paying forward for my blessings.

  3. Tina R.

    I have had nothing but problems with acquiring ssdi I have Parifrial artery disease that is a automatic disability. Why should it take 11 months?

    • John O.

      Peripheral Artery Disease is NOT an automatic approval for disability. You must meet the following conditions : The SSA has defined requirements for applying for Social Security disability benefits. To qualify for benefits with Peripheral Artery Disease, you must have imaging documentation from a Doppler or Angiography and experience intermittent claudication in addition to one of the following:
      A resting ABI of less than 0.5.
      A 50% decrease in systolic blood pressure at the ankle with exercise that requires 10 minutes or more to recover.
      A resting toe systolic blood pressure of less than 30 mm Hg.
      A resting toe/brachial index of less than 0.4. For further information consult the specific requirements in the SSA Blue Book. Section 4.0 Cardiovascular – Adults.

      • Jeff

        I just want to tell you John, that I appreciate your comments!

        It’s hilarious to me, that after you correct people up and down throughout both of these SSDI threads, that they never come back to say “I was wrong, you are right” or even bother to come back at all….

        Many like to come here and spew their nonsense and MOST are just incorrect….

        I truly do appreciate your commentary!

        Thank you!

  4. Linda C.

    I am 71 years of age and am drawing my social security. I had to stop working in June because it was too tiring to transport enough oxygen to make it through a 7 hour day. I had lung cancer in 2011 and a heart attack in 2016 and I also have severe COPD. I was wondering if I could also draw SSD along with my SS. If anyone has an answer, I would appreciate knowing before I go to the trouble of applying.

    • Retiree

      You have to settle for SS because that’s all you will get.

      • Linda C.


    • John O.

      You’d have to become disabled before you reached your full retirement age less 5 months. Otherwise, all you can receive is retirement.

      • Linda C.

        Thank you John.

    • Tony S.

      If you are poor after medical expenses you can apply for SSI. Everyone wants to know how you survived lung cancer that comes with a two year prognosis. Is $1 hydrocortisone creme smeared on the chest the cure for Aspergillus niger?

      • Tony S.

        Fresh fabric, vegan diet, an athletic level of cardiovascular exercise, antibiotics cures endocarditis. Hawthorn is the supreme herb for the heart. Hawthorn can be used with statins, that are also effective, but expensive and not so curative. Hawthorn cannot be used with high blood pressure medicines or digitalis.

  5. Eddie

    Is their any cost of living for 2017 I really need help in paying for food rent please let me know I may just go and be homeless thank you. Please tell me what to do.

    • John O.

      There probably will be a COLA this year. The SS Administration will not know until October. It will probably be in the neighborhood of 1.6 to 2.2 Percent, not enough to keep you from being homeless.

      • Tiger

        The COLA had only increased by .2% (2/10 of 1%) at the end of August. As they use the average of July, August, & September, it will be released October 16th.

  6. Dee

    I just read a few of the comments, but I need clarification on if my SSDI will convert to SS when I turn 65 and will there be a change in benefits I receive?

    • John O.

      No change.

    • Ray F.

      Hi Dee. When you receive disability benefits under the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program, we will automatically convert your disability benefits to retirement benefits, when you attain your Full Retirement Age. The benefit amount will generally remain the same.

    • rhea

      Thank you for your comment,but I always eat at home .because I cannot afford to dine out and I only grocery shop.

  7. rhea

    When will we receive an increase in benefits,also it has been 2 years since we had an increase. I,am tried of starving at the end of each month. I agree with Susan , this is all for show.

    • Retiree

      That’s why you should eat out less and save your money to buy groceries, and eat at home.

  8. Jan S.

    Does SSDI cover a child age 10 with Autism or are there other financial supports to cover the costs of a special school, diagnostic evaluations and therapies for our grandson?

    • John O.

      The child could be eligible for SSI. It is means tested however.

    • Ray F.

      Children who are disabled may be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSI is a needs based program that pays benefits to people with limited income and resources. We take into consideration the living arrangement, any income and resources available to the child to establish eligibility. Please call us at 1-800-772-1213 for more information. Representatives are available Monday through Friday between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Generally, you will have a shorter wait time if you call later in the week.

  9. Susan

    These types of articles are so unnecessary and to recruit people who benefit by sharing their stories is beyond the pale. Social Security and, thereby SSDI, are in a high impact marketing mode to get responses from people about how great SSA is. All of these “feel good” stories are being collected so that SSA has ammunition to raise our payroll deductions. People like Carolyn Colvin will go before Congress with stacks and stacks of printouts of these comments, but only mention the ones that are positive in an effort to convince lawmakers that SSA and SSDI are valuable social safety nets. “Safety net” is a code phrase for “means testing”. And if you think that means testing is only going to affect the 1%ers, you are sadly mistaken. We have fewer and fewer workers contributing to SSA and more and more people taking SS and SSDI. This great country of ours does want to and needs to provide sustenance to the very unfortunate among us. But the definition of unfortunate continues to encompass more and more people which mean that those of us who are fortunate will have to pay more. And the Government will define fortunate with a money yardstick. SSA is already short of money….how many people does it take to run this website and how much money do they make? We already have thousands of Social Security offices around the country but because they are so ineffective and create so much dissatisfaction amount its customers, this website is nothing more than a marketing tool. Anyone who has had to deal with SSA knows that this department does not provide good customer service but their jobs are protected because they are in federal employee unions. I’m getting off the point, but it’s so easy to do when talking about SSA. You can bet that every SSA office is celebrating this great milestone with big parties, food, time out of their workdays, all of it on the taxpayer’s dime.

    • Carolyn

      Your remarks are SO negative I feel sorry for you. I am 75 yrs. old and I collect ss and personally, I have never encountered a poor experience with ss – Whether visiting the local office or placing a phone call…never a problem. AND, without fail, my check is deposited monthly.
      I am thankful for social security and for social security disability for those who need it.

      • Ice

        I agree. I would been lost without them. Some people can never be satiated.

        • Ice

          Sorry, I left out the word “have.”

      • Barbara

        We are very thankful for ss that we paid into for 60 some years sense there was no retirement available! Also it is great that people receive help ssd that truly deserve them! But there is a lot of fraud when it comes to that part of ssd that is draining the system and should be controlled better! To many claims of not being able, yet you see them doing things that would qualify them for work! That is the sad part! There are always some that will look for an easy way to take but never give!

        • Justin

          I have a mental health disability (military service related) at 32 i can’t function in a job and i get by, I’m driving a car that is 16 years old and I can’t afford a newer car. SSDI keeps me off the streets, out of jail/prison/homeless shelter…. I respect that there is fraud but overall this program is a safety net for those unable to work.

          • Christina O.

            How would SSA would help all those autism adults who depend on SSI or SSDI who needs education and jobs to care for themselves?

          • Kenny O.

            Hi Christina: One of our highest priorities is to help people with disabilities achieve independence by helping them take advantage of employment opportunities. We have special rules to help anyone get back to work without jeopardizing their initial benefits. Work incentive employment supports disabled and blind SSI beneficiaries go to work by minimizing the risk of losing their SSI or Medicaid benefits. Please see Work Incentives – General Information for details. Hope this helps.

      • Kitty

        Negative remarks=negative experiences-it’s great you had no problems-apparently this is not the case for everyone. How about a little compassion?

    • John O.

      While there are kernels of truth hidden in your remarks, such as this site being a feel good venue, and fewer contributing and more taking from the system, your remarks about SS being ineffective and the employees not providing good service is way off the mark. As for SS becoming means tested, you are off on another planet. And you are worried about the employees sharing treats during their lunch hour? How petty!

      • Susan

        I have no idea how old you are or if you are still working at a good job with a good salary. If you are young and have plans to get ahead and make more and more money, you will be means tested to get the Social Security benefits you deserve. It’s already happening. People who are still working and want to collect their benefits when eligible have their Social Security benefits reduced because they are still working. You know those statements you get showing you approximately how much your SSA monthly check will be? Most people think that’s what they will get when they retire. Let’s say you don’t think it’s not enough for you to live on and you feel like you need to work to supplement your Social Security payment. SSA only lets you make a small amount before they start reducing your monthly payments. How is that fair? If I’ve worked for 50 years and should be getting $1000 a month and I want to work to earn additional money, why shouldn’t I get the $1000 a month that I’m entitled to rather than some reduced amount because I CHOSE to continue to work so I can have a better life than what $1000 a month would provide? I don’t know what planet you’re from if you haven’t heard anything about “means testing” for Social Security. Do a Google search and educate yourself.

        • Jeff

          Ummm if you’re still working you DON’T have to take your benefit!

          Your amount goes up EVERY MONTH that you hold off on taking your retirement benefit until the age of 70!

          You can make up to $15,720 per year! See the policy here:

          If you decide to take your benefit at YOUR FULL RETIREMENT AGE! Which I would bet is 66 years old! There would be NO PENALTY from work! You can make ANY amount of money and your benefits would not be reduced.

          If you decide to retire at any time past 62 and before your full retirement age, you can take your benefits and there will be NO PENALTY AT ALL!

          So this is the policy, you can take your benefits after the age of 62 but if you’re still working and NOT your full retirement age or FRA AND you go over the $15,720 per year. Your benefits will be penalized….

          These are the rules, it’s not that complicated and you’re making it sound like you’ll NEVER get what you’re supposed to….

          This simply is NOT TRUE! Wait until your FRA or until you retire to take your benefits and GUESS WHAT?????


          If you don’t like these rules, write to your congressman….

    • Marc

      Your remarks are indeed exceedingly negative, but what’s more, they are INCORRECT. Hundreds of Social Security offices have been CLOSED; there are most certainly NOT “thousands of them” all overall over the country. That’s the whole premise of this website – to be able to serve MORE people with LESS manpower.

      The union snipe was also false, as was the ridiculous claim of all the offices being closed so they can have the day off to “celebrate and party.” WHAT a buffoon you are. Thanks for the laugh.

      • Susan

        Glad I could provide some levity for you, Marc. Do a Google search on Social Security offices. In 1937, there were 175 offices and the US populations was 128.8 million. In 2009, the latest info I could find, there were 1297 offices and the US population was 306.8 million. That’s a 641% increase in the number of offices when the population only increased by 138%. I couldn’t find any numbers the number of employees working in those years, but I did find an organization chart dated June 28, 2016 that said there are 60,000 workers at SSA. I would love to know what percentage increase in the number of employees today compares to 1937, wouldn’t you? All those workers are government union workers. Perhaps you’re not aware of the pay and benefits bestowed upon government union workers. They are far above anything the rest of us mortal souls get, believe me. Not to mention, do you know that they don’t participate in SSA? They have their own retirement system that the taxpayers foot the bill for. They don’t contribute anything to their retirement plan. I didn’t say the employees were getting the day off to celebrate….what I said was they were having parties on the taxpayer’s dime while they were supposed to be servicing the “customers”. Unfortunately, I don’t find anything funny about your comments. You are woefully illiterate on the subject. That makes me sad.

        • DrGonzo888

          First off, current government employees DO pay in to SSA , moron. 2ndm they are UNDERPAID vs. current metrics for the same jobs in the private sector. ( source: GOOGLE IT ) There are Higher up’s in all parts of the government that are overpaid, but the grunt workers … look online for a job with SSA. most start in the 20K range, IF YOU HAVE A COLLEGE DEGREE.

          Ignorance is a horrible excuse for anger.

          • Susan

            You are the moron. I don’t know what you Googled, but try Googling “Do government workers contribute to Social Security and Medicare?” You will see that they have a different program. SSA isn’t good enough for government workers. It’s going broke but I’ll bet the government workers fund is just fine.

    • mk

      This website is due in part to President Obama’s open government initiative 7-8 years ago. He wants government agencies and the public have an ongoing communication of ideas and comments to bring about better or innovative ways and policies to serve the public.

      • Mary

        I’m sorry, we do pay into social security and Medicare, depending also what government agency one works for AND we also contribute to OUR retirement fund.

  10. anne B.

    SS needs to change the way they calculate the COLA and include cost of food, gas,
    rent/mortgage, medical, etc because all, of this has skyrocketed and no COLA for 2016. We definitely need an increase for 2017 of 6% or more. Take it from the politician’s who have taken from SS funds unlawfully.

    • mk

      SSA does not do anything with how the COLA is calculated. Talk to your local representatives to relay your concerns to the Congress. The president signs off on whether there is a COLA or not and how much the percentage will be. The COLA Is based on the economic performance of the country, if I am not mistaken.

      • Ray F.

        Thanks for your comment. By law, the Social Security Administration uses the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W) determined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in the Department of Labor to calculate Cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs). The Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA), is announced each year in October.

Comments are closed.