What is the status of the Totalization Agreement With Mexico?
Q: What happened with the U.S. Social Security Totalization Agreement with Mexico? Has TSCL learned anything from those Freedom of Information Act requests? Has this deal gone into effect yet?
A: The Social Security Totalization Agreement that the U.S. signed with Mexico in 2004 has not gone into effect yet. It remains pending and awaits action from the President and Congress. At issue is the secrecy surrounding the plan to give Mexican nationals — including millions who worked here illegally — U.S. Social Security benefits.
Since 2005, TSCL has sought release of documents concerning the agreement through several Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and lawsuits. As a result, the first public copy of the Totalization agreement was released to TSCL in 2006, but there were no long-term financial impact estimates included among the documents that were disclosed. Determined to learn what else the government is withholding, TSCL filed more FOIA requests, and another lawsuit. Recently a federal judge again ruled that TSCL deserves more information. TSCL expects the release of more documents soon, unless the government appeals.
The Social Security Administration maintains 24 Totalization Agreements — most with other developed countries like Canada and Japan. The agreements help workers who divide their careers between the U.S. and their native country. Workers sometimes fail to qualify for Social Security benefits from one or both countries because they have not worked long enough in one country or recently enough to meet minimum eligibility requirements.
Under Totalization, if a Mexican worker has some U.S. coverage, but not enough to qualify for benefits, the Social Security Administration will count periods of coverage that the worker has earned under the Social Security program in Mexico. U.S. workers need to have at least 40 quarters of coverage to become "vested" for full benefits under U.S. Social Security. Under totalization, Mexicans workers only need to have six quarters of coverage in the U.S. to receive benefits. If the combined credits in the two countries enable the worker to meet eligibility requirements, a partial U.S. benefit can then be paid which is based on the proportion of the worker's earnings in this country.
TSCL is concerned about the financial impact a totalization agreement with Mexico would have on Social Security because of the millions who have worked here illegally. Under current law the Social Security Administration uses all earnings to determine entitlement to benefits, even when the jobs were worked illegally under invalid or fraudulent Social Security numbers. According to the most recent TSCL Senior Surveys, 87 percent of seniors think that the government should do more to prohibit payment of Social Security benefits based on illegal work.