[Excerpt] Calculations indicating that the current Social Security program will not be financially sustainable in the long run under the present statutory scheme have fueled the current debate regarding Social Security reform. This report addresses selected legal issues that may be raised regarding entitlement to Social Security benefits as Congress considers possible changes to the Social Security program in view of projected long-range shortfalls in the Social Security Trust Funds.
Social Security benefits are administered pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act, known as the Old Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance (OASDI) program. Title II is part of a larger social insurance program in which Congress uses its power to tax and spend for the general welfare to promote the social goals of aiding the aged, survivors of workers, disabled persons, and persons of limited means. Beneficiaries under Title II have a legal entitlement to receive Social Security benefits as set forth by the Social Security Act and as administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA), an independent agency in the executive branch.
An individual’s right to Social Security benefits is in a sense “earned,” since there is a general relationship between OASDI benefits and wages earned and the tax paid thereon. However, benefits are not directly measured by the amount of payments made through the years into the system. Thus, the fact that Social Security benefits are financed by taxes on an employee’s wages does not provide a limit on Congress’s power to fix the levels of benefits under the Social Security Act, or the conditions upon which they may be paid.