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Aid for the Aged (OAA) 1935

Aid For The Aged: Title I of the Social Security Act


An elderly woman is shown counting Pennies

Title I of the 1935 Social Security Act created a program, called Old Age Assistance (OAA), which would give cash payments to poor elderly people, regardless of their work record. OAA provided for a federal match of state old-age assistance expenditures. Among other things, OAA is important in the history of long term care because it later spawned the Medicaid program, which has become the primary funding source for long term care today.

Although many people today only know about the Old Age Insurance (OAI) portion of the Social Security Act, in 1935, when the Act was passed, it was OAA that everyone was really interested in. Support for Old Age Insurance was much weaker, and President Franklin Roosevelt had to work hard to convince Congress that OAI was an important component of the Social Security Act. One problem with the Old Age Insurance plan was that reserves had to be built up before they could begin paying benefits, and no OAI benefits were supposed to be paid before 1942.

In the meantime, there were many elderly people who needed immediate help, and many others who would never receive much benefit from the OAI program because they were already retired or only had a few years left to work. Among others, Edwin Witte and Arthur Altmeyer,  key contributors to the Social Security legislation, were concerned about those who were age 45-50, a group they called “the half old.” OAA was designed to provide a stop-gap to make sure that those people had some help from the government as they aged, since they would not be able to contribute enough before they retired to collect a meaningful benefit.

OAA was fabricated out of the 28 state old-age assistance programs that had been put in place by the early 1930’s. These programs varied quite a bit, but they were mostly brought into the new federal system as-is. Each state was allowed to set its own standards for determining eligibility and payments, with the federal government providing cash for a 50% match of up to $30 a month in aid. The lack of federal control was deliberate. The legislation was written that way to to get the support of states that wanted the federal government’s assistance without too many strings attached. Only a few federal requirements were added:Portrait of an unknown man whose hand is to his chin

  • The old-age assistance program had to be available throughout the state, not just in certain counties.
  • The State had to provide at least some of the financing for the program. (In some states the existing old-age assistance programs were only funded at the local level).
  • Residency requirements could not be any longer than 5 out of the last 9 years, and the minimum age for receiving benefits could not be any older than age 65.
  • The state had to create a single state agency to administer the plan and a system of administration and reporting to the federal government..
  • The program had to include an appeals process for people who believed they had unfairly been denied old-age assistance.
  • If the state or local governments collected money from the estate of any recipient of old-age assistance, half of that money had to be given to the federal government.
  • Payments to anyone living in a “public institution” were prohibited.

All the other provisions of the existing plans continued into the OAA program. This meant that in many states OAA was not available to elderly people who had families who “ought” to be supporting them, and that beneficiaries could be required to turn over everything that they owned before receiving any assistance, while other states had no such restrictions.


Historical Evolution of Federal Programs for Older Americans

The Civil Service Retirement Act provided a retirement system for many governmental employees.

The Social Security Act passed; provides for Old Age Assistance and Old Age Survivors Insurance.

Railroad Retirement Act provided pensions for retiredrailroad employees and spouses.

President Truman initiated the first National Conference on Aging, sponsored by the Federal Security Agency.

First federal funds appropriated for social service programs for older persons under the Social Security Act.


Special Staff on Aging established within the Office of the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, to coordinate responsibilities for aging.

Federal Council on Aging created by President Eisenhower.

Legislation introduced in Congress, calling for a White House Conference on Aging.

Housing act authorized a direct loan program for non-profit rental projects, for the elderly at low interests rates, and lowered eligibility ages for public-low-rent housing, for low-income women to age 62.

Social Security Administration eliminated age 50 as minimum for qualifying for disability benefits, and liberalized the retirement test and the requirement for fully insured status.


First White House Conference on Aging held in Washington, D.C.

Social Security Amendments lowered the retirement age for men from 65 to 62, liberalized the retirement test, and increased minimum benefits and benefits to aged widows.

Administration on Aging logo1962
Legislation introduced in Congress, to establish an independent and permanent Commission on Aging.


Older Americans Act signed into law on July 14 1965. It established the Administration on Aging within the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, and called Image of President Johnson and a quote for the 50th Anniversary of the Older Americans Act of 1965for the creation of State Units on Aging.

William Bechill named first Commissioner on Aging

Medicare, Title XVIII, a health insurance program for the elderly was established as part of the Social Security Act.

Medicaid, Title XIX, a health insurance program for low-income persons, was added to the Social Security Act.


Older Americans Act extended for two years, and provisions made for the Administration on Aging to study the personnel needs in the aging field.

Age Discrimination Act signed into law.

Administration on Aging moved from the Office of the Secretary of HEW and placed in the newly created Social and Rehabilitative Service Agency within the Department.

Sources: Administration on Aging, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

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