Social Security Placard (MO 2012.2.4)

Soon after its enactment, FDR began working to expand Social Security. Congress ignored his calls to open coverage to farm and domestic workers and other excluded groups. But in 1939, lawmakers passed amendments that added Social Security benefits for the spouse and minor children of retired workers. Congress also provided survivor benefits to family members in the case of the premature death of a worker.

During Social Security’s early years a major debate erupted over the program’s funding. Critics argued the government reserve fund established to hold Social Security contributions inevitably would be raided by the government for other purposes. Others worried about the effect of Social Security payroll taxes on an economy still mired in economic depression.

In response, Congress moved up the date for Social Security benefits from 1942 to 1940 and postponed scheduled increases in Social Security tax rates. These actions decreased the size of the reserve fund and took the program off the funding path FDR had charted. Seeds of future fiscal problems had been planted.

The display item above was created in 1940, just as the first Social Security benefit checks were being received. At almost two feet tall, the cardboard placard with easel was designed to inform workers about Social Security benefits and encourage them to enroll in the program. This rare placard was a gift to the FDR Library from Michael Agee in February 2012.