Alexandria, VA: It sounds screwy, but it's current U.S. government policy. Undocumented immigrants can become entitled to benefits based on the jobs worked under fraudulent Social Security numbers. The number they're working under may be fake or even stolen, but when the status of an undocumented worker changes, as it would under immigration reform, he or she would become eligible to file a claim for Social Security that could be based, in part or even in total, on earnings from jobs worked without legal authorization.
Immigration reform could add potentially hundreds of billions in long-term costs to Social Security, because all that's needed for undocumented workers to file a claim is permission to work in this country. Citizenship is not a requirement. This policy is stirring up seniors already angry about proposals to cut the Social Security cost-of-living adjustment (COLA). According to a recent survey by The Senior Citizens League (TSCL), a nonpartisan seniors organization, some 87 percent said they strongly favor measures that would prohibit payment of Social Security based on earnings from jobs worked prior to gaining legal work authorization.
"Congress and President Obama are telling seniors that Social Security is unsustainable, and they're calling for cuts in the growth of their Social Security benefits," says TSCL Chairman Ed Cates. "Yet millions of illegal workers would potentially benefit from committing document fraud under most immigration reform proposals,” Cates says.
Just how would someone working under a fake Social Security number be able to make a claim? Benefits are based on lifetime earnings — not as many people mistakenly believe — on the taxes paid in. When unauthorized workers use phony Social Security numbers to work, their employers record their earnings under the phony numbers on W2s and send copies to the Social Security Administration. Based on Social Security Administration data, TSCL estimates that employers will send in more than 9 million such wage reports for the 2013 tax year. When the Social Security Administration receives wage reports in which the name and Social Security numbers don't match those in their records, the W2s are saved in a special Earnings Suspense File until the SSA can reconcile them with the rightful owner, even if that occurs years later.
When an individual files a claim for benefits, the Social Security Administration (SSA) searches its records for every wage report (W2) connected with that individual to determine entitlement. The search even includes earnings from jobs worked prior to legal authorization, under fake, invalid or stolen Social Security numbers (SSNs) if the applicant kept evidence of such earnings like pay stubs or W2s. SSA calculates benefit payments based on all earnings individuals accumulate over their lifetime — including earnings for jobs worked without authorization.
Undocumented workers are encouraged by pro-immigration advocates to keep their W2s and pay stubs, in case their status changes, and they become eligible for Social Security. Immigrants filing for a status change also would have a pressing incentive to locate evidence of their prior unauthorized earnings history, like W-2s, because virtually all immigration reform legislation requires proof of payment of back taxes.
In pending Senate immigration reform legislation, Senators Orrin Hatch (UT) and Marco Rubio (FL) introduced an amendment that would prevent payment of benefits based on prior illegal work. The provision would ban earnings from jobs worked without legal authorization from being used to determine entitlement to Social Security benefits and for calculating the amount of initial benefits, legislation that TSCL and its grassroots members have long supported. TSCL believes that to protect Social Security for all beneficiaries, such a provision should be included in any immigration bill emerging from the House, where Representative Dana Rohrabacher (CA-48) has introduced similar legislation. His bill, the No Social Security for Illegal Immigrants Act (H.R. 2745), would also exclude illegal wages from benefit calculation.
What do you think of the policy that pays Social Security benefits based on document fraud? Seniors are invited to participate in TSCL's annual 2014 Senior Survey. For a free 8-page special issue of TSCL's Best Ways to Save, send $2 to cover postage and handling with your name and address to The Senior Citizens League, 1001 N. Fairfax St. #101, Alexandria, VA 22314.
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.