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The Choice on Social Security: Reform Now, or a 23% Cut in 2034

Every year without Social Security reform is another step closer to insolvency, according to the program’s trustees and budget hawks in Washington.

Social Security Administration

Social Security faces an empty trust fund and an automatic 23-percent benefit cut in just 17 years unless changes are made, according to an annual report from the trustees of the program.

The trustees wrote, in a letter to Speaker Paul Ryan and VP Mike Pence – in his capacity as president of the Senate – that:

The projected hypothetical combined OASI and DI Trust Fund asset reserves increase through 2021, begin to decline in 2022, and become depleted and unable to pay scheduled benefits in full on a timely basis in 2034. At the time of depletion of these combined reserves, continuing income to the combined trust funds would be sufficient to pay 77 percent of scheduled benefits.

OASI – Old-Age and Survivors Insurance – is what most people think of when they think about Social Security: benefits paid to around 50 million seniors and their survivors every month. DI – or Disability Insurance – is a smaller program serving around 11 million disabled workers and their dependents.

For years, Republicans like Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, and George W. Bush have proposed reforms to Social Security, such as raising the retirement age and slowing the automatic annual growth in benefits.

Democrats are often quick to criticize reforms as a step to ‘privatizing’ Social Security, instead making vague promises to ‘strengthen’ programs like Social Security and Medicare so that “no one [loses] a penny.”

The hard reality, though, is that if Congress doesn’t vote to make hard changes now, every recipient will face hard – potentially, devastating – automatic cuts in 2034.