Three Ways Congress Can Pay For Notch Reform
By Jessie Gibbons, Legislative Analyst
Each month, due to the Social Security Act Amendments that were signed into law in 1977, more than 3.7 million Notch babies receive Social Security checks that are lower than the benefits they originally anticipated. Last year, Representative Mike McIntyre (NC-7) introduced the Notch Fairness Act, a bill that would provide modest compensation to those who were born in the Social Security Notch, or those years between 1917 and 1926. Even though TSCL lobbies aggressively in favor of the Notch Fairness Act, many Members of Congress believe that the bill’s passage is unlikely this year because it would add approximately $18.9 billion to a growing deficit. To offset the cost of the Notch Fairness Act, we’ve come up with three fair and responsible options that we hope Congress will consider. First, Congress could increase efforts to reduce waste, fraud, and abuse.
Social Security’s Disability Insurance program is littered with waste. Last year, for example, $1.8 billion in overpayments were made to those collecting disability benefits. In addition, the administration has allowed an enormous backlog to accumulate for Continuing Disability Reviews, which are conducted to determine whether a beneficiary has recovered enough to return to work. Currently, every dollar spent reviewing cases yields more than ten dollars in savings; if the backlog were eliminated, more than $9 billion in savings would be returned to the Trust Fund. The potential savings from eliminating waste within Social Security are enormous and could cover the cost of the Notch Fairness Act. Second, Congress could increase the amount of income subject to the Social Security payroll tax – an option that sixty-seven percent of TSCL members strongly supported in this year’s Senior Survey. Currently, yearly income earned above $110,100 is not subject to the payroll tax.
Each year, the “taxable maximum” increases according to growth in the national average wage index. However, the percentage of earnings subject to the payroll tax has decreased over time, since earnings by the wealthiest have grown faster than earnings by the rest of the population. Increasing the “taxable maximum” to cover a larger portion of income could responsibly cover the cost of the Notch Fairness Act. Third, Congress could allow the temporary Social Security payroll tax holiday to expire. For nearly two years, employees have enjoyed a two - percent payroll tax cut, but it has done little to stimulate the economy and it has undermined the self-sustaining nature of Social Security.
The tax cut costs the federal government approximately $100 billion each year it is extended. Allowing it to expire after this year would more than cover the cost of the Notch Fairness Act’s passage. TSCL believes that Congress must pass the Notch Fairness Act to correct a wrong done to those affected by the Notch. Each of the offset options above would allow Congress to responsibly pass the Notch Fairness Act without contributing to the deficit. To learn more about the Social Security Notch, visit our website at SeniorsLeague.org.
Sources: Hearing on Combating Waste, Fraud, and Abuse, Office of the Inspector General, Social Security Administration, January 24, 2012. “Levin, Conrad Introduce CUT Tax Loopholes Act,” Senator Carl Levin, February 7, 2012.