Budget chief says immigration surge could add $1 trillion to Social Security coffers

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Budget chief says immigration surge could add $1 trillion to Social Security coffers

“The immigration surge, we project from 2021 to 2026, will result in about $1 trillion in additional revenue” over a ten year period, Dr. Phillip Swagel, director of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) told lawmakers during a Tuesday hearing.

Members of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security convened to examine the current and projected financial status of the dwindling Social Security Trust Fund, as the program hurdles towards potential cuts upwards of 21 percent on individual benefits by 2035. 

The House will go through the appropriations process, which will once again push lawmakers into debate over Social Security funding, this month. While Democrats and Republicans continue to war over two solutions to the program’s waning funds, tax increases on the wealthy or benefits cuts to the program, a third consideration emerged during the meeting — immigration. 

Republicans — including former president and presidential candidate Donald Trump — have increasingly pointed to immigration as a drain on social safety nets for the elderly in recent months, including Social Security and Medicare. 

Top budgetary experts bucked those claims during Tuesday’s panel as they argued immigrants could have a positive impact on Social Security.  

Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.) first linked the hearing’s topic to immigration reform when she asked witnesses if increasing legal pathways to immigration would put the “Social Security Trust Fund in better shape,” which all three affirmed. 

“That would make a significant difference,” Stephen Goss, Chief Actuary of the Social Security Administration (SSA), noted.

Immigrants to the U.S. could stand to solve one of the major burdens on Social Security — population stagnation. During his testimony, Goss attributed Social Security’s growing shortfalls, in part, to declining birth rates in recent decades, which in turn meant less workers to alleviate the large Baby Boomer generation now cashing in on their benefits. 

Swagel restated CBO’s 2024 findings that immigrants would contribute $1 trillion in tax revenue over a ten year period, prompted with a question from Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.). While Swagel acknowledged that the CBO’s projection would need to be reevaluated on a regular basis, Goss continued to affirm immigration’s positive role in funding Social Security.

“There are cases where they have earnings reported,” he said, noting that employers sometimes do file the payroll taxes of their undocumented employees. “They will likely not get any benefit credit, but payroll taxes still accrue on that point.”

Undocumented immigrants are unable to collect on Social Security benefits, while they can unknowingly contribute to its coffers. In 2013, the SSA published a report, led by Goss, which unveiled that undocumented immigrants paid nearly $13 billion of Social Security taxes in that year alone.

That reality reflected in the figures is at odds with the GOP’s messaging. In a March post to Truth Social, Trump linked undocumented immigrants with the decline in Social Security funds.

“Unlike the Democrats, who are KILLING SOCIAL SECURITY AND MEDICARE by allowing the INVASION OF THE MIGRANTS,” he wrote. “I will NOT, under any circumstance, allow either of these two precious GEMS to be even touched under a Trump Administration.”

Rep. Ron Estes (R-Kan.) pressed Goss on whether the SSA accounted for the “impact of illegal immigrants” in their yearly report.

“Absolutely, we always have,” Goss responded. “The bottom line really is that immigration of any form is actually a positive in the realm we are now where the birth rates in the country are as low as they are.”

Bolstering immigration as a solution to the Social Security problem is another shot in the Republicans and the Trump campaign’s messaging around Social Security. In late March, the campaign walked back the former president’s remarks on “cutting” Social Security. 

As the House begins the appropriations process amid the election season, Social Security and immigration are likely to be top of mind for lawmakers, just as they have been among voters in the lead-up to November.