Dividing Citizens: Gender and Federalism in New Deal Public Policy

By Suzanne Mettler | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE The Formation of Old Age Insurance and Old Age Assistance

Among our objectives I place the security of the men, women and children of the Nation first. . . . Fear and worry based on unknown danger contribute to social unrest and economic demoralization. If, as our Constitution tells us, our Federal Government was established among other things, "to promote the general welfare," it is our plain duty to provide for that security upon which welfare depends.

--President Franklin D. Roosevelt, "Message to Congress, June 8, 1934"

With these words, Roosevelt made public his preliminary plans for legislation to provide lasting measures of economic security to Americans. Anxious about his prospects for reelection in 1936, Roosevelt wanted to proceed quickly on the development and passage of a bill for social provision. By the end of June 1934, he appointed a cabinet committee called the Committee on Economic Security (CES) to study economic security concerns, develop recommendations, and draft legislative proposals that could be sent to Congress within six months. The Social Security Act, which Roosevelt signed into law in August 1935, was unprecedented in scope by American standards and remains today the most comprehensive social policy creation in U.S. political history. By combining several programs into one law, the act effectively established an entire social welfare apparatus, intended to reach, eventually, the lives of the majority of citizens. The major components of the statute include contributory Old Age Insurance (which has come to be called "social security"), noncontributory Old Age Assistance for the elderly, Unemployment Insurance, and Aid to Dependent Children.1

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1
The Social Security Act also included several smaller programs, such as Aid to the Blind, a maternal and child health program fashioned after the Sheppard-Towner Act, support for state programs for crippled children, and some funds for state-level public health programs. Comprehensive health insurance was also intended to be part of the bill, until it became clear that it was not politically feasible, primarily owing to opposition by the American Medical Association. See Arthur J. Altmeyer, The Formative Years of Social Security ( Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1966), pp. 27-28, 33, 56-57; Edwin E. Witte, The Development of the Social Security Act ( Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1962), pp. 173-89; and Reminiscences of Arthur J. Altmeyer, pp. 28-31, OHC.

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