Benefit Bulletin: September/October 2016

Benefit Bulletin: September/October 2016

How Supreme Court Ruling On Immigration Affects Social Security and Medicare

The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling on immigration has significant consequences for Social Security and Medicare. Changes in immigration policy can affect the revenues received by the programs and the number of people claiming benefits in the future.  The U.S. Supreme Court dealt a blow to President Obama’s plan to grant “deferred action,” which would have conferred “lawful presence” and associated benefits to an estimated 5 million illegal immigrants.

The Supreme Court’s justices split 4 to 4, leaving in place a lower court’s ruling that Obama had exceeded his powers.  That essentially blocked Obama from launching his new program prior to the end of his term in office.  Obama’s immigration plan would have provided illegal immigrants with temporary work authorization and controversial access to long-term benefits like Social Security and Medicare without approval from Congress.

That access to benefits is particularly controversial among older voters, according to surveys by TSCL.  A key unresolved issue is whether undocumented immigrants, who illegally worked using invalid or fake Social Security numbers, would be able to claim credits towards benefits for those earnings.  Work authorization, or “green cards,” not citizenship, is the key requirement for noncitizens to become entitled to Social Security benefits and Medicare when other program qualifications are met.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, even “limited” immigration changes that provide only permission to work in this country, or temporary work authorization, could potentially add millions of new claims for long-term benefits in the future.  Under current law Social Security benefits are based on all earnings, including earnings from jobs worked without authorization under invalid and fraudulent documents.

TSCL’s 2016 Senior Survey conducted from January through May 15, 2016 found that 83% of older voters oppose entitlement to Social Security and Medicare benefits based on earnings from jobs worked without legal authorization.  Concern is high that undocumented immigrants who were illegally present and who worked under fake, invalid, or fraudulent Social Security numbers may benefit based on such work, potentially at the expense of others who paid into the system the legal way.  TSCL is working for legislation that would strengthen Social Security’s protections by prohibiting the use of such unauthorized earnings from being counted toward eligibility for Social Security benefits.

The Supreme Court’s tie vote means that the important legal questions this case raised remain unanswered for now.  The next President and Congress will continue to face the issue of whether people should become entitled to Social Security based on earnings from jobs worked without authorization under fake and invalid Social Security numbers.  Let the candidates know how you think on this matter, and VOTE November 8th!