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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture


Prior to 1935 the indigent elderly relied on family, local charity, and county relief. The Great Depression was the catalyst prompting the state and federal governments to become involved in providing monetary assistance to the poor. Some states had instituted old age assistance (OAA) in the early 1900s before the federal government passed the Social Security Act (SSA) on August 14, 1935. However, Oklahoma and several other southern states had not instituted a state-funded program. With the passage of the SSA the federal government offered funding, and states now had an incentive to establish an OAA program. Initially, the SSA provided federal money to states by granting an amount equal to half of the recipient's monthly payment, up to thirty dollars. Thus, if the claimant received thirty dollars or more from the state, the federal government paid fifteen to the state.

Before Oklahoma passed a social security act in 1936, the territorial legislature had enacted a law in 1901 requiring that the counties furnish aid to the poor and needy, including the elderly. Apparently, this worked well until the onset of the Great Depression. In 1931 faced with decreased revenues and increased numbers on relief, the counties could not provide for the destitute. Consequently, the state legislature appropriated $300,000 and established the Emergency Relief Board, which passed funding to the counties. Because this was a stopgap measure, the Veterans of Industry of America, led by Ira M. Finley, the Oklahoma Farmers' Union, and the Oklahoma State Federation of Labor agitated for an Oklahoma old age pension act during the 1930s. In September 1935 during Gov. Ernest W. Marland's administration, three state questions (State Questions 209, 214, and 215) relating to old age pensions and revenue to fund the program were presented to Oklahoma voters. Only S.Q. 214 authorizing pensions, social security, and a welfare commission was passed. However, opponents of the question presented to the secretary of state documentation that some of the signatures on the initiative petition were invalid. In February 1936 the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled S.Q. 214 illegal.

On July 7, 1936, S.Q. 225, establishing a welfare program and its administration, and S.Q. 226 (Oklahoma Social Security Act), calling for assistance for the aged, blind, crippled children, and dependent children, were passed. An additional 1 percent sales tax, for a total of 2 percent, was approved to pay for the new welfare program. Seventy-five percent of the revenue from the 2 percent sales tax went toward OAA. In August 1936 the Oklahoma Department of Public Welfare was established, which administered the old age assistance program and other welfare programs. In order to qualify for old age assistance, Oklahoma recipients must be age sixty-five or older, must have been a state resident for five of the last nine years and the last year being continuous residency, and had to have insufficient income or other resources to support themselves. Application of the state's old age assistance caused problems due to Oklahoma's diverse cultures. For example, the land division clerk at the Five Civilized Tribes Agency in Muskogee helped American Indians determine their age by researching tribal rolls.

During fiscal year 1938, 64,607 OAA recipients received an average monthly payment of $15.14. Although there was a decline in recipients during World War II due to increased industrial employment, by fiscal year 1952 there were ninety-four thousand claimants in Oklahoma. As time passed, more elderly qualified for Social Security through Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) and did not need OAA; between December 1950 and October 1963 the number of recipients declined 16.2 percent.

Although old age assistance was originally meant to be temporary until individuals qualified for social security through the OASDI, some people continue to receive old age assistance. These include the permanently and totally disabled who cannot work and pay into Social Security and some elderly who draw a small Social security check and who also qualify for OAA. Public Law 92-603 passed in 1972 authorized the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Program, a federally administered income assistance program to the needy aged, blind, and disabled persons based on uniform, nationwide eligibility requirements. SSI went into effect in January 1974 and replaced the former federal-state administered programs of old age assistance whereby the states established eligibility qualifications. At the turn of the twenty-first century Oklahoma was one of forty-four states that paid state supplemental payments to SSI recipients.

Linda D. Wilson


Department of Public Welfare Collection, Archives, Oklahoma Department of Libraries, Oklahoma City.

Joseph J. Klos, Public Welfare in Oklahoma (Stillwater: Oklahoma State University, 1965).

Walter Richard Shuttee, "Old Age Assistance in Oklahoma" (M.A. thesis, University of Oklahoma, 1953).

Cecil E. Walton, "Public Welfare in Oklahoma" (M.A. thesis, University of Oklahoma, 1950)

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The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Linda D. Wilson, “Old Age Security Act,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=OL001.

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