MLIVE ASK THE ATTORNEY COLUMN
SOCIAL SECURITY RETIREMENT BENEFITS
Q. Even though I have been paying into Social Security for 30 years, can the federal government legally refuse to pay my generation our retirement benefits when we reach retirement age?
A. When Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt created Social Security in 1935, it was designed as insurance funded through payroll contributions so that individuals would have a contractual right to receive benefits when they reached retirement age. FDR said he designed it this way so that in the future “no damn politician” could ever cheat workers who paid their premiums by scrapping the program. Unfortunately, a conservative Supreme Court majority ruled in a 5-4 decision, Flemming v Nestor, that workers do not have a legally binding contractual guarantee of future benefits. The Court ruled that future Congresses could not be legally bound by earlier congressional action. Immediately after Trump and the Republican Congress passed a trillion dollar tax cut for the rich, Republicans suddenly began talking about their desperate need to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid because of the giant budget deficits they just created. If we want to ensure that we receive the Social Security retirement benefits we were promised, then we have no choice but to get out and vote for leaders in Washington who will honor the promises made to us by earlier generations.
–Attorney Robert J. MacDonald (September 2018)