Social Security:

Criteria for Evaluating Social Security Reform Proposals

T-HEHS-99-94: Published: Mar 25, 1999. Publicly Released: Mar 25, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed how best to ensure the long-term viability of the Social Security Program.

GAO noted that: (1) as attention has focused on social security's future financial situation, a wide array of proposals have been put forth; (2) some proposals would reduce benefits, some would raise revenues, and most propose some combination to restore financial solvency; (3) social security has long served as the foundation of the nation's retirement income system; (4) Congress has always taken the actions necessary to ensure social security's future solvency when faced with an immediate solvency crisis; (5) the program does not face an immediate crisis, rather, it faces a long-range and more fundamental financing problem due to demographic trends; (6) social security's financial condition is directly affected by the relative size of the populations of covered workers and beneficiaries; (7) while the program was put into a 75-year actuarial balance just 15 years ago, trust fund balances now are projected to be exhausted in 2032; (8) in addition, the program will begin to experience a negative cash flow in 2013, which will accelerate over time; (9) a variety of proposals have been offered to address social security's financial problems; (10) the proposals differ with regard to specific benefit changes and how investment returns are captured; (11) three primary criteria can be used to evaluate these proposals: (a) the extent to which the proposals achieve sustainable solvency and their effect on the economy and the federal budget; (b) the balance they strike between the twin goals of individual equity and income adequacy; and (c) how readily changes could be implemented, administered, and explained to the public; and (12) GAO believes it is possible to craft a solution that will protect social security benefits for the nation's current retirees, while ensuring that the system will be there for future generations.

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