Alexandria, VA (July 15, 2013) When unauthorized immigrants work under phony Social Security numbers, what happens to their prior earnings’ records when their legal status changes? The question is important because earnings are the basis for determining entitlement to Social Security and Medicare benefits. Under current law, individuals who later gain work authorization can claim prior earnings under invalid Social Security numbers without penalty to gain eligibility to Social Security. Social Security uses all earnings from jobs — worked both legally and illegally to determine the initial retirement benefit. “That means without changes to protect Social Security, immigration reform would lead to big new long-term benefit costs based on illegal work,” says TSCL Chairman Larry Hyland. “These are costs that neither the Congressional Budget Office nor the Social Security Administration have fully disclosed to the public,” he says.
To qualify for Social Security, workers generally must have 40 quarters of coverage — about ten years of earnings history, but fewer quarters are required for people under age 61 with qualifying disabilities. There is no official published data on the amount of wages on file attributable to aliens working without authorization, but the Social Security Administration maintains an earnings suspense file that represents an estimated $763.5 billion in wages from 2000 through 2010, most of it believed attributable to illegal workers. Social Security uses earnings, not the taxes paid to determine entitlement to benefits.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the cost of the Senate immigration reform bill S.744 would cost Social Security and Medicare about $70 billion over 20 years. But under the legislation, immigrants in provisional status must wait 13 years before they would have access to most federal benefits. The CBO’s 20-year estimate thus does not reflect the full scope of Social Security and Medicare’s long-term costs.
TSCL strongly supports an amendment in the Senate bill proposed by Senator Orrin Hatch and Marco Rubio that would prohibit the use of unauthorized earnings to determine eligibility for Social Security benefits. “TSCL believes that if Social Security numbers used for unauthorized work are invalid then the earnings under those numbers should also be invalid for entitlement to benefits,” Hyland says.
Eighty-eight percent of TSCL’s grass roots senior members believe that Social Security should not be based on unauthorized work. “Document fraud, identity theft and violation of immigration law should not be rewarded with Social Security benefits, adding huge new future costs at a time when lawmakers are considering cuts to Social Security cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs),” Hyland states. “Doing so would further erode Social Security solvency increasing the risk of more cuts down the road,” he adds.
TSCL is urging seniors to contact their Members of Congress. To learn more visit www.SeniorsLeague.org. To find out how much you could lose from proposed COLA cuts visit http://seniorsleague.org/chained-cola-calculator/.
With about 1 million supporters, The Senior Citizens League is one of the nation's largest nonpartisan seniors groups. Located just outside Washington, D.C., its mission is to promote and assist members and supporters, to educate and alert senior citizens about their rights and freedoms as U.S. Citizens, and to protect and defend the benefits senior citizens have earned and paid for. The Senior Citizens League is a proud affiliate of TREA The Enlisted Association. Please visit www.SeniorsLeague.org or call 1-800-333-8725 for more information.
 Growth of the Social Security “Earnings Suspense File”, Mary Johnson, TSCL February 2013.