The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) Warns That White House Action On Immigration Comes With Hidden Long-term Costs to Social Security

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White House action that provides work authorization and Social Security numbers for unauthorized immigrants could potentially allow non-citizens access to benefits for work performed while in the United States illegally.

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White House action that provides work authorization and Social Security numbers for unauthorized immigrants comes with hidden, but significant, long – term costs, warns The Senior Citizens League (TSCL). That’s because as many as half of the nation’s unauthorized immigrants have lived and worked in this country more than ten years — long enough to become fully “vested” for Social Security disability, survivors, and retirement benefits.    

President Obama recently announced that he will take executive action on immigration before the end of the year. That action is likely to include providing work authorization and access to Social Security numbers for potentially millions of unauthorized immigrants.

“Work authorization is the key requirement for noncitizens to become entitled to Social Security benefits when other program qualifications are met,” states TSCL Chairman Ed Cates. “Even temporary permission to work in this country can have a significant long - term impact when so many unauthorized immigrants have worked in the United States for ten years or longer,” he says. To become fully vested for Social Security retirement or survivors benefits, individuals need at least 40 quarters of coverage – about ten years of work. Younger adults who become disabled can qualify for benefits with less, depending on age and length of time worked.

In 2004, Congress passed legislation requiring immigrants to have work authorization in order to become entitled to Social Security benefits. Citizenship, however, is not a requirement to claim benefits. Despite tightening the law, Congress did not fix a loophole that allows immigrants who worked under false and invalid Social Security numbers to count earnings from those jobs toward entitlement to benefits. Once work authorization is received, and a claim for benefits is filed, the Social Security Administration uses all reported earnings from covered employment in the U.S. to determine benefits, even when the jobs were worked under fraudulent Social Security numbers.

TSCL members believe this loophole gives a costly and iniquitous benefit to people who worked under false Social Security numbers. “Our members believe this policy rewards people for document fraud, and will potentially add billions in new long-term costs to Social Security,” Cates notes.

Undocumented immigrants who live and work in this country use illegally obtained Social Security numbers to get jobs. Employers withhold payroll taxes and report earnings to the Social Security Administration. Earnings are what the Social Security Administration uses to calculate benefits. According to Social Security Administration data obtained by TSCL, over the decade ending 2011 (the most recent year for which data is available) employers sent in about 8.3 million wage reports per year, representing on average about $71.4 billion per year in wages.

According to a TSCL survey conducted early this year, 78 percent of survey participants strongly favor legislation that would prohibit payment of Social Security benefits calculated using earnings from jobs worked by unauthorized immigrants. TSCL lobbies for legislation that would provide such protection of Social Security. To learn more, and to participate in polls on Social Security and Medicare, visit http://www.SeniorsLeague.org.

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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 http://www.SeniorsLeague.org or call 1-800-333-8725 for more information.

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