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Tea Party propaganda leaves a bad aftertaste

By Tom Margenau Published: March 4, 2010
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.

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