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VERIFY: Did the Social Security Administration really say Trump's proposed tax cuts would deplete Social Security by 2023?

The Verify team looked into claims that President Donald Trump proposed a plan, which the Social Security Administration said would lead to a depleted system by 2023

WASHINGTON — Question: 

Did the Chief Actuary of the Social Security Administration write a letter to Democratic Senators warning that Trump's tax plan would deplete Social Security by 2023? 

Answer:

No. The Chief Actuary sent a letter to Democratic Senators with an analysis of a 'hypothetical' plan that would completely cut the payroll tax, without replacing this funding. Designating this as Trump's plan is misleading because the president has not actually come out with such a plan.

In early August, Trump did say at a press conference that he wanted to "terminate" the tax, replacing the lost revenue with funding from "general funds." 

His spokesperson later clarified that he was referring to the forgiveness of the deferred taxes, rather than a termination of the payroll tax.  

Source:

Howell Jackson, Harvard Law School 

Letter From Chief Actuary of the SSA, August 24, 2020

Trump Campaign Spokesperson

President Trump Press Conference, August 12

Process:

As is typical in any election year, there is a lot of conversation about the future of Social Security. Many on social media are claiming that President Trump's tax-plan would deplete Social Security in just a few years.

“No joke," one person wrote on Twitter. "President Trump’s proposal to eliminate payroll taxes would deplete the Social Security retirement trust fund by 2023, and it's disability insurance fund by the middle of next year, according to the Social Security Administration."

RELATED: VERIFY: Did Joe Biden vote to tax social security benefits twice during his Senate career?

For context, the Verify Team started by looking over this letter, sent by Stephen Goss, the Chief Actuary of the Social Security Administration. Four Democratic Senators asked Goss to analyze hypothetical legislation, in which the payroll tax was cut without any replacement funds. In part, Goss wrote the following:

"If this hypothetical legislation were enacted, with no alternative source of revenue to replace the elimination of payroll taxes on earned income paid on January 1, 2021 and thereafter, we estimate that DI Trust Fund asset reserves would become permanently depleted in about the middle of the calendar year 2021, with no ability to pay DI benefits thereafter. We estimate that OASI Trust Fund reserves would become permanently depleted by the middle of calendar year 2023, with no ability to pay OASI benefits thereafter."

This analysis, which was based on hypothetical legislation, has been tied to President Trump because of comments he made on August 12, in regards to the payroll tax. This was just days after he signed an executive order that would defer the payroll tax from September 1, through the end of the year. 

"We’ll be terminating the payroll tax," he said at the press conference. "After I hopefully get elected, we’ll be terminating the payroll tax.” 

There are two important pieces of context, that the viral posts are missing: 

First of all, the analysis of the hypothetical plan did not factor in any replacement funding. At that same August 12 press conference, President Trump said that any cuts to the payroll tax would be replaced with revenue from the general fund. 

It's also unclear if President Trump is actually proposing a cut of the payroll tax. While his words at that August 12 press conference seemed pretty clear, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters on August 13 that the president was actually talking about forgiving the deferred payments, and not cutting the tax entirely. 

The viral posts are accurate in the sense that the Chief Actuary of the SSA did say that if the payroll tax is eliminated without replacement funding, Social Security would be depleted by 2023. But since President Trump has not released an official plan, it's misleading to say that this analysis applies to anything more than a hypothetical plan.