Which Is It? A Social Security Deficit, or Money Owed To The Social Security Trust Fund?

Which Is It? A Social Security Deficit, or Money Owed To The Social Security Trust Fund?

A common debate is re-emerging this year over Social Security’s “deficit, ” as the federal borrowing limit looms.  The debt limit, which was suspended since late 2015, was re-instated on March 16th.  That debt limit sets the money the Treasury can borrow to pay for federal obligations, including money owed to the Social Security Trust Fund.

Currently the program pays out more in benefits than it receives in cash revenues.  The interest on money owed to the Social Security Trust Funds, however, is helping to fund the benefits of today’s retirees.  But because the government must borrow the amount of money needed to repay funds borrowed from Social Security in the past, that drives up federal spending.  Some Members of Congress are saying that benefits must be reduced, or that higher revenues are needed, to reduce the deficit.

The Social Security Trust Fund is the single biggest government account to which the U.S. Treasury owes money, with obligations currently totaling about $2.8 trillion dollars.  From the mid 1980s until 2010, the Social Security Trust Funds received more revenues than required to pay benefits.  Under current law, when surplus revenues are received, the Treasury issues special bonds or I.O.Us to the Trust Funds and excess revenues are used for other government spending.  The government is required by law to pay interest on those I.O.U bonds.

In 2017, the Social Security retirement and disability trust funds are due to receive an estimated $87 billion in “interest payments” on those I.O.U.s.  Because that money is not real cash, it must be borrowed, setting up a fractious debate in Congress — between those who say that benefits must be cut to make the program more sustainable, and others who say that Social Security payroll taxes are not equitable because the highest paid workers are not paying their fair share of taxes.

TSCL surveys have found that there is no public support for benefit cuts.  On the other hand, 79% support eliminating the taxable maximum cap on earnings so that the highest paid workers pay Social Security taxes on all of their income, not just part of it as they do today.

Your thoughts on this matter can sway votes in Congress. Contact your Members of Congress.  Letting each of them know what you think about debt limit deals that would cut “entitlements” like the Social Security cost-of-living adjustment, or trim benefits in other ways.