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U.S. National Debt:

The Need To Shore Up Social Security Is Mounting

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

In its most recent report out in June, the Trustees of the Social Security trust fund provided another warning that Congress must act now to address the shortfalls of the Social Security trust fund.  The trustees reported that the Social Security program will be "unable to pay scheduled benefits in full on a timely basis in 2034" and recommended that lawmakers address these shortfalls soon, so that "a broader range of solutions can be considered and more time will be available to phase in changes while giving the public adequate time to prepare."  Many Americans depend on Social Security, and we must not waste more time and act on this warning to prevent the program's insolvency.

By law, the Social Security Trustees provide an annual assessmentto Congress of the current and projected condition of the Social Security trust fund.  This report builds on past warnings that the trust fund's shortfalls must be addressed now.  The Trustees' reportincluded the following troubling projections:

  • Social Security's combined trust funds will be depleted in 2034, the same year projected in last year's report;
  • When the reserve is depleted, income to the funds would be sufficient to pay 77 percent of the scheduled benefits to retired workers, their families and survivors of deceased workers;
  • The Disability Insurance (DI) Trust Fund that supports the DI program, which assists disabled workers and their families, is projected to be depleted in 2023, at which time continuing income to the DI Trust Fund would be sufficient to pay 89 percent of scheduled DI benefits;
  • "If substantial actions are deferred for several years, the changes necessary to maintain Social Security solvency would be concentrated on fewer years and fewer generations."

The program provides benefits to millions of senior citizens and the disabled, and the solutions are increasingly difficult as more time is wasted.  The Trustees report that there were 61 million Social Security beneficiaries and 171 million covered workers and their families in 2016.  The non-partisan Congressional Research Service reportsthat, "maintaining financial balance after trust fund insolvency would require substantial reductions in Social Security benefits, substantial increases in income, or some combination of the two . . . The sooner Congress acts to adjust Social Security policy, the less abrupt the changes would need to be, because they could be spread over a longer period and would therefore affect a larger number of workers and beneficiaries."

The warnings are clear.  As a new Congress and new Administration kick off this month, we must act as the trustees advise, "With informed discussion, creative thinking, and timely legislative action . . ." to prevent Social Security's insolvency. 

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