An organization of retirees has announced the release, after three years of arguments and a Freedom of Information request, by the Social Security Administration of a copy of the first known public copy of the U.S.-Mexico Social Security Totalization Agreement.
The TREA Senior Citizens League said the document reveals what was expected, a huge threat to the future of Social Security, because any Mexican worker who has as little as 18 months of employment history in the United States could end up qualifying for some Social Security retirement benefits.
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The organization of retirees, whose leaders have tried to convince Congress to prevent Social Security benefits from being awarded for work done by people in the United States illegally, said the exact financial impact cannot be calculated immediately, because the number of illegals working in the country isn't clear.
But with estimates ranging to 20 million illegals in the country, even a portion of them qualifying for Social Security benefits could move the costs into the range of billions quickly.
An analysis of the plan by the Center for Immigration Studies noted that at the end of 2003, the Social Security System owed retirees and current workers benefits valued at $14 trillion, with assets of only $3.5 trillion.
"Ominously, these assets include not only the trust fund's current reserves ($1.4 trillion), but also the present value of the taxes that current workers will pay for the rest of their working lives ($2.1 trillion)," the organization said.
The TREA organization, which represents more than 1.2 million people, said the government agreement between the United States and Mexico was signed in June 2004, and now is awaiting President Bush's signature. Once that signature is in place, which can be done without a vote in Congress, the U.S. House and U.S. Senate would have only 60 days to disapprove it by voting to reject it.
"The Social Security Administration itself warns that Social Security is within decades of bankruptcy – yet, they seem to have no problem making agreements that hasten its demise," said Ralph McCutchen, chairman of the league.
It's not the first such agreement; the U.S. already has nearly two dozen other agreements with other nations. They are intended to eliminate dual taxation for people who work outside their country of origin. But the other agreements are with developed nations with economies similar to that of the U.S., the league said.
For example, a worker who turns 62 after 1990 generally needs 40 calendar quarters of coverage to receive retirement benefits. Under the cross-country agreements, workers can combine earnings from both countries in order to qualify for benefits in the U.S.
The agreements generally provide that workers need only 18 months of coverage in the U.S. to qualify.
However, the league said Mexico's retirement system is "radically" different from other nations, the group said. "There, only 40 percent of the non-government workers participate in the system, as opposed to 96 percent of America's non-government workers. Additionally, the U.S. system is progressive, meaning lower-income workers get back much more than they paid into the system. But in Mexico, workers get back only what they put in, plus interest."
"I applaud the persistent efforts of TREA Senior Citizens League to try to get documents from the U.S. Government about the U.S.-Mexico Social Security totalization Agreement," noted Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C. "The American people are finally beginning to get some of the information regarding this Agreement that they have been seeking for so long."
The CIS said the plan should not be approved in this form.
"It represents a sell-out of American workers and their families," the group's analysis said. "Such a one-sided pact with its enormous financial risks should never have been negotiated in the first place."
"It is unfortunate that the Commissioner of Social Security signed it despite the serious and specific concerns expressed in the GAO report and again in Congressional hearings in 2003. It would have been far better to pull the plug then rather than extend negotiations with Mexico, which now has every reason to believe the agreement will be accepted. We owe Mexico an apology for leading it on. But embarrassment over a diplomatic blunder should not get in the way of extricating ourselves from an agreement that is not in our national interest," the analysis said.
The CIS said the circumstances could attract illegals to the U.S., while providing only marginal benefits to any U.S. workers or employers.
The retirees' organization is made up of active senior citizens who are concerned about protecting their Social Security, Medicare and veteran or military retiree benefits.
It is working on changing the way Cost-of-Living Adjustments are made, obtaining reforms in the system for those people born in the "Notch" years of 1917-1926, and resolving threats to civilian or military work force retiree benefits.
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