Last week President Barack Obama announced he wants to give every Social Security recipient a $250 payment to make up for the fact that they will not get a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA). The Washington Post describes this as a one-time payment. They are wrong. George Will explains: “This is the second continent-wide shower of $250 checks. The first came from the $787 billion stimulus package enacted in February. There will not be another such shower, until the next one.”
Heritage fellow David John explains why these payments are undermining the legitimacy of the entire Social Security program:
Proponents of this increase tacitly acknowledge this fact when they base arguments in favor of the $250 payment on decline in 401(k) assets or housing values. While no one disputes that many retirees have a tough time getting by on Social Security, Social Security’s COLA is strictly intended to make up for the effect of inflation on those benefit payments, not for any other changes to a retiree’s income or net worth. Any attempt to use Social Security or its COLA to make up for a reduction in other assets or income starts to change Social Security into a welfare program.
Since Social Security started in 1935, its benefits have been earned and paid for by its own payroll taxes. A bipartisan consensus has preserved the fact that recipients are not receiving a gift from the government but rather a benefit based on explicit taxes paid by the worker. However, both the Obama proposal and that agreed to by Republican leaders breaks that connection.