As the 2024 campaign heats up, candidates are facing questions about their positions on Social Security benefit cuts and facing pressure to pledge not to touch Social Security. But one thing everyone needs to remember — a complete lack of any timely action to fix Social Security’s finances would have a significant cost for beneficiaries according to a new estimate from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
If Congress doesn’t “touch” Social Security at all before 2033, the program could become unable to pay scheduled benefits in full and on time. Automatic benefit cuts could occur. According to the estimate, a dual - income couple retiring in 2033 would see a cut of about $17,400 and a single - income couple retiring that same year, would see a cut of about $13,100.
The Social Security Act does not specify what happens to benefits if a trust fund becomes insolvent. Although beneficiaries are legally entitled to their full scheduled benefits should insolvency occur, another law, the Antideficiency Act, prohibits government spending more than the available funds. That means the Social Security Administration would not have legal authority to pay full scheduled Social Security benefits on time according to a report from the Congressional Research Service.
Under current law, Social Security benefit payments can only be made from the Trust Funds and are limited to amounts payable from annual tax revenues. Many sources report that this means benefits would be adjusted to the amount of payroll taxes received which are estimated to be about 75% - 80% of expected benefit amounts.
The Trust Funds’ primary source of revenue is the Social Security payroll tax, which in 2023 is applied to earnings of up to $160,200. The Trust Funds also receive income from the federal income tax on Social Security benefits.
“Retirees Face a $17,400 Cut If Social Security Isn’t Saved,” Committee For A Responsible Federal Budget, https://www.crfb.org/blogs/retirees-face-17400-cut-if-social-security-isnt-saved.
Social Security: What Would Happen If The Trust Funds Ran Out? Congressional Research Service, September 28, 2022, https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/RL/RL33514/34