Q: A friend of mine who calls himself a Tea Party activist just sent me the following information off the Internet. Can you please comment on it? The e-mail contained a laundry list of common anti-government diatribes. For the purposes of this column, I'm only including the Social Security-related items. "Billions of dollars in Social Security benefits are doled out to people who never paid into it and don't deserve it!" "Illegal aliens are getting your Social Security!" "Politicians get Social Security bonuses on top of their Cadillac retirements!" "Social Security is going broke because Congress stole all the money!" A: They say no matter how preposterous a rumor is, if you shout it loud enough and often enough, especially on the World Wide Web, people will eventually take it as the gospel truth. So, let me now preach to you from the Book of Common Sense. Do you know that there is a woman living right next door to me who is getting Social Security, but she never paid a dime into it? She is a widow who was a stay-at-home mom all her life — but her husband spent 50 years working and paying Social Security taxes. And a few blocks over, a couple little kids are getting Social Security. Obviously, they haven't worked and paid Social Security taxes. But their mom, who died last year from breast cancer, did work and pay taxes. My point is there are millions of people who are getting Social Security benefits who never worked and paid into the system. But they are the wives, husbands, widows, widowers and children of people who did work and did pay Social Security taxes. Few people would argue that these people do not deserve their Social Security benefits. Some people confuse Social Security with the Supplemental Security Income, or SSI program. SSI is a federal welfare program managed by the Social Security Administration that pays benefits to low income elderly and disabled people. Some folks getting SSI benefits may not have worked and paid Social Security taxes. But SSI is not funded by Social Security taxes. It's paid by general tax revenues. How about all those illegal aliens getting Social Security? Well, they're not. To qualify for Social Security benefits, you must be a U.S. citizen or an immigrant who is living in this country legally. Of course, I can't categorically state that a single undocumented worker has never fallen through a crack and qualified for Social Security. But that would be the very rare exception. They certainly are not bankrupting the system. In fact, Social Security Administration actuaries point out that just the opposite is true. Millions of undocumented workers in this country have worked and paid Social Security taxes, but they never collect Social Security benefits. Over the years, they have added billions of dollars to the Social Security coffers and received nothing in return. Members of Congress do not receive Social Security bonuses. They have Social Security taxes withheld from their paychecks just like everyone else. And they qualify for the same kind of benefits as everyone else. They happen to also qualify for another pension, which they pay for — but so do millions of other people. My wife, for example, gets a Social Security benefit and a nice pension from the county government library system where she used to work. My neighbor worked for Hewlett-Packard. He receives a Social Security check and a very comfortable pension from Hewlett-Packard. Some people, like my wife, have a Chevy retirement system. Some people, like my neighbor and some members of Congress, have a Cadillac retirement system. But they all get the same kind of benefits from Social Security. Finally, Congress has not stolen Social Security money. By law, all Social Security surpluses are invested in U.S. treasury notes. Congress uses that money — like it uses any money invested in treasury securities — to fund any and all operations of government. But the point is that the Social Security system, similar to any investor in treasury bills, still holds the securities and can demand repayment. Social Security does this routinely to make good on the billions of dollars in Social Security checks it distributes each month. Social Security has long-range funding problems — not because unqualified people are getting Social Security; not because immigrants are ripping off the system; not because politicians are getting Cadillac retirements; and not because Congress has stolen the trust fund money. Social Security has long-range problems for one simple reason: a quickly aging population. There are about 45 million Social Security beneficiaries now. In just 20 years or so, by the time all the baby boomers retire, the numbers will almost double. There will be about 90 million people receiving Social Security. And there just aren't enough young people coming along to take care of all of us. Today, there are three taxpayers for each person getting a Social Security check. And the system works very well at that three-to-one ratio. But by 2030, there will be only two taxpayers for each person getting Social Security. And as it's currently structured, Social Security does not work at the two-to-one ratio. That's why Social Security reform is needed. If you have a Social Security question, Tom Margenau has the answer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about Tom Margenau and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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COPYRIGHT 2010 CREATORS.COM.