30th Anniversary- 1965

On August 15, 1965, more than 3,000 people gathered at the FDR Presidential Library in Hyde Park, N.Y. for a ceremony honoring the 30th anniversary of the passage of the Social Security Act. This speech was delivered on that occasion.



Commissioner of Social Security

It is indeed fitting that we have made this pilgrimage to the home of Franklin Delano Roosevelt to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the signing of the Social Security Act, for he considered social security his administration's "supreme achievement." Franklin Roosevelt, a man of dreams and a man of action, brought to fruition many of his hopes for a better America, but of all the domestic accomplishments of his administration he felt that he wanted most to be remembered for the establishment of the social security system.

I believe he felt this way because he knew in signing the Social Security Act of 1935 that he was creating more than a new program, more than a new Government agency with important immediate responsibilities. He knew he was creating a new institution for America, permanent in basic form and with the capacity to make life more secure and happier for generations yet unborn. For Franklin Roosevelt who had brought into being so many experimental and temporary programs to meet the specifics of the depression emergency--important programs for the time such as FERA, NYA, NRA, WPA, and PWA, but programs that disappeared with the emergency that called them forth--knew far better than most the importance of building institutional arrangements to meet long-range goals upon the enduring foundation of sound principles. We are still building on the strong foundations that he and the great pioneers of social security in his administration--Edwin Witte, Frances Perkins, John Winant, Arthur Altmeyer and Wilbur Cohen--first established a generation ago.

Institutions to last and to perform important and expanding roles must appeal to the fundamental needs and motivations of mankind. They cannot be improvised; they must emerge from the experience of the human race. What then is social security? What is this institution whose American birth we celebrate today? The idea of social security is so very simple that the wonder is it came to have broad application so late in human history. For although now some 80 countries of the world have social security systems and all the industrial countries of the world have very advanced systems, social security as distinct from relief or assistance has been almost entirely a development of the present century. The idea is simply that while people work and are earning they contribute a part of those earnings to a fund with contributions matched by the employer and in some countries by the Government. When earnings stop because one is too old to work or too disabled to work, or because the wage earner in the family dies, or because there is no job to be had, or when there are extraordinary expenses connected say with illness, then the collected funds are used to make up for the loss of income or to meet in part or whole the expenses incurred.

Social insurance, like all insurance, averages out among all who are covered the risk that is too much for any one individual to bear. The fact that the protection is the automatic accompaniment of a job makes practically universal protection assured. It is an idea based upon the traditional motivations of work and saving with eligibility for protection growing out of the work that people do, and with any savings they make on their own available over and beyond social security benefits. It is a method which is consistent not only with economic incentives but also with the traditions of self-support and the protection of human dignity.

It is the fact that the social security program is an instrument which the people of the country use to build their own security through work and saving--not a Government program doing something for or to people-it is the fact that it brings the revolutionary results of the universal protection of the old, the widowed, the orphaned and the disabled--but it does it through the application of widely held beliefs and traditions which support and strengthen self-dependence--it is these facts which make social security a permanent institutional reform and made Franklin Delano Roosevelt want to be remembered most for his role in establishing social security for Americans.

Now we are engaged in putting into effect the most far-reaching and important addition to the program since its initial establishment--the program of health insurance for the aged. This law has been in effect a little over 2 weeks now and I would like to report to you briefly on some of the things we have done and are planning to do. One of our first tasks is to get information to people covered by the program about what their rights are and what actions they need to take to protect those rights and what, on the other hand, we do automatically without their needing to take action. The pamphlets which are available here today are an example of part of this informational effort as are the many news stories, television programs, and radio announcements that you may have heard and seen.

Some of the points we are trying to get across are these: first of all, the retroactive cash payment covering the benefit increase from last January through August will be sent automatically to all social security beneficiaries. No one needs to do anything about this. Beneficiaries should receive a single check for this retroactive amount about the middle of September. In early October when the regular social security check is due, it will be in the new amount that will be coming regularly from then on.

We will also start, in early September and continuing until December, to mail to every individual social security beneficiary, railroad retirement beneficiary, and civil service annuitant a somewhat fuller pamphlet on health insurance than those we are distributing generally, telling each person what his protection is under the hospital insurance program and what is available to him under the voluntary medical insurance program. People on the social security rolls and the railroad retirement rolls do not need to take any action to get the basic hospital insurance protection, but they will need to let us know that they want to take the voluntary medical insurance plan. With this mailing that will be starting early next month we will send an application card pre-punched with the name and account number of the person on it, and he will be asked to return the application card indicating whether or not he wants the supplementary insurance. This can all be done by mail; but of course if people wish to come in to discuss the matter, they will be very welcome in social security district offices. We hope that those who come in will bring the application card with them since it has important administrative control purposes.

People who are not now drawing social security benefits but are eligible for them but haven't applied, because they are still working or are only newly eligible because of the special provision for people 72 and over in the new legislation, should come in and file an application as soon as possible.

People who have not worked in occupations covered by social security will need to apply for both hospital insurance and the voluntary supplementary plan, but since it is not possible to file for the voluntary plan until September 1, it would be best for them to wait until next month before taking a trip to a social security office. Those who are on old-age assistance will be contacted by the State Welfare Department about both hospital insurance and the voluntary plan covering physicians' services.

People over 65 before the beginning of next year have until March 31, 1966, to file application for the voluntary plan. If they don't do it by that time, then certain penalties and delays in protection apply if they later want to come in. So there is importance in taking action before the end of next March.

Then next spring we will mail individually to each person who has established his entitlement to the basic hospital plan an eligibility card which he can use like a Blue Cross card when it is necessary for him to go to the hospital. If he has enrolled for the physicians' services as well, that will be indicated on the card.

In addition to getting the necessary actions started for the 19 million people past 65 who will be protected under the program next July 1, we have been holding a large number of consultations with the various professional groups and others involved in the administration of the new health insurance program. I can report to you that these discussions are going very well and that we are getting the whole-hearted cooperation of the representatives of the hospitals of the country, of the medical profession, of the insurance industry, of the nonprofit prepayment plans, nursing homes--visiting nurse associations, and other home health organizations, and of State governments.

In all of these negotiations we have explained to them their part in the administration of the program and equally important we have received from them valuable advice born of their long experience.

The Social Security Administration is adding district offices and branch offices to the over 600 we already had throughout the country. We are establishing special service centers to make information-giving activities under the new program more convenient for people. We have been hiring additional people to man the new programs. We have been increasing the capacity of our telecommunications network and related electronic data processing capabilities so that we can take full advantage of the wondrous modern inventions in the administration of these important new programs.

All in all, although there is much to do, I feel confident that we will, together with the others involved, be ready to deliver the protection intended by the law, on time and with a minimum of disruption.

And so on this historic occasion and on this historic site we reaffirm the resolution to make this new and wide extension of Franklin D. Roosevelt's dream a fully working and vital factor in the lives of the people he loved so well. He began with a dream even then that confidence would some day conquer fear, that cooperation would overcome dissension, that though youth should be a time of challenge, old age should be a time of peace. The Nation has followed in the way he pioneered. It has followed President Lyndon Baines Johnson who said about the new health insurance program 2 weeks ago at the signing of the Social Security Act Amendments in Independence, Missouri, "There are men and women in pain who will find ease. There are those alone and suffering who will now hear the sound of approaching help. There are those fearing the terrible darkness of despair and poverty--despite long years of labor and expectation--who will now look up to see the light of hope and realization."