New TSCL Report: $994.8 Billion in Wages In SSA’s Earnings Suspense File
While employment plunged at the height of the recession in 2009, new data from the Social Security Administration (SSA) suggests that millions of illegal immigrant workers hung onto their jobs. Employers sent in 7.7 million wage reports of workers whose names and Social Security numbers (SSN) don’t match those on the SSA’s files for 2009. The “mismatched” wage reports are frequently caused when the SSA receives copies of W2s for illegals who work under stolen, false or invalid SSNs. Although employment among illegal workers appears to have declined in 2009, the number of such “mismatched” wage reports that the SSA received from 2000 - 2009 averaged 9.5 million per year.
That represents a huge liability to the Social Security Trust Fund, should there be an amnesty. Every year the SSA processes millions of W2s. When a name or SSN on a W2 doesn’t match the SSA’s records, the wage report goes into an “Earnings Suspense File” (ESF) until the discrepancy can be reconciled. The ESF file today contains more than 312.7 million wage items representing $995 trillion in wages. Wages are what the Social Security Administration uses to determine entitlement to Social Security, rather than the amount of taxes paid. Immigration reform advocates say that although payroll taxes are withheld from the checks of illegal workers, they have little chance of collecting benefits.
There are, however, a number of ways that unauthorized workers can, and do, become entitled to benefits based on illegal work (see our “FAQ: How “Undocumented” Workers Are Becoming Entitled To Social Security” from the May 2012, Volume 17, Number 4 issue of The Social Security & Medicare Advisor. Despite a 2004 law forbidding illegals from claiming Social Security benefits, they are able to do so if at some point their status changes and they receive work authorization — as would happen under an amnesty. With work authorization, noncitizens can file a claim for Social Security benefits. Under current law when determining entitlement for benefits, Social Security uses all earnings for calculating the primary benefit amount, even if the earnings were for unauthorized work using fraudulent documents. All the individual needs to do is to supply evidence of the earnings, such as old W2s, and earnings in the ESF file would be “reinstated” to the account of the claimant.
TSCL surveys have found that the overwhelming majority of seniors feel Social Security benefits should not be based on illegal work, regardless of whether taxes were withheld. With major changes looming for Social Security, TSCL supports legislation that would ban the payment of benefits based on illegal work — H.R. 787, “No Social Security for Illegal Immigrants Act,” introduced by Representative Dana Rohrabacher (CA-46), and S.95, legislation to prevent Social Security credit from being earned without legal status introduced by Senator David Vitter (LA).
Sources: Earnings Suspense File Data For 2008 and 2009, Social Security Administration, March 2, 2012. “The Growing Cost Of Illegal Immigration To Social Security,” Mary Johnson, TSCL, June 2010.