1939 Amendments

The original Social Security Act provided only retirement benefits, and only to the worker. The 1939 Amendments made a fundamental change in the Social Security program. The Amendments added two new categories of benefits: payments to the spouse and minor children of a retired worker (so-called dependents benefits) and survivors benefits paid to the family in the event of the premature death of a covered worker. This change transformed Social Security from a retirement program for workers into a family-based economic security program. (The 1939 Amendments also increased benefit amounts and accelerated the start of monthly benefit payments to 1940.) The 1939 Amendments thus became a pivotal turning-point. Indeed, the 1939 law is probably second in importance only to the original Act itself in shaping Social Security in America.

The 1939 Amendments grew out of the work of an Advisory Council, jointly chartered by the Social Security Board and the Senate Finance Committee.

A variety of background materials are available on the 1939 Amendments:

"Social Security In Review"-- Announcement in Social Security Bulletin, September 1939

"The Revised Benefit Schedule Under Old-Age Insurance"-- Article in Social Security Bulletin, September 1939

"Reasons for the 1939 Amendments to the Social Security Act"-- Internal memorandum, January 1940

President Roosevelt's remarks on signing the legislation-- August 11, 1939

See also the materials on the 1938 Advisory Council

FULL TEXT OF 1939 LAW (Adobe PDF format file)