Lew: Immigration reform critical to solving entitlement crisis

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“I worry a lot in my current job about the financial solvency of Social Security and Medicare,” Lew said in an interview with Univision. “As we bring millions of immigrants onto the payroll, that means hundreds of millions of dollars into the Social Security Trust Fund over the next 10 years. It means tens of billions of dollars into the Medicare Trust Fund. I think I said millions, it’s billions. Hundreds of billions of dollars.”

The trustees for the two entitlement programs reported earlier this year that Medicare will reach insolvency by 2026, while Social Security’s two trust funds will become insolvent by 2033.

That means that unless Congress acts, Social Security will no longer be able to pay full benefits to retirees after 2033 – including one fund that will only be able to pay 80 percent of disability starting in 2016 – and Medicare will begin spending more than it takes in by 2026.

Lew’s comments come as the Senate this week continues debate on the landmark immigration bill, with proponents pushing for a vote before the July 4 break. 

Immigration reform advocates hope to pull together an overwhelming majority in the Senate so it has momentum heading into the House, where it faces an uncertain path. But conservative lawmakers say they will oppose the measure unless there are tighter border security requirements. 

Lew said immigration reform was also important for matters of “fairness” and “economic opportunity.”

“I think immigration reform is vitally important for a number of reasons,” he said. “First of all, to bring people out of the shadows. To bring them into the mainstream economy, it’s a basic matter of fairness, but it’s also a basic matter of economic opportunity.”

“If you’re in the shadows you’re not part of the regular employment system,” he continued. “You can be taken advantage of, and you have no rights. You don’t provide the kind of continuity of service. You bring people into the mainstream, they can be put on the payroll. They are paying payroll taxes … and that’s why I think you’re seeing so much bipartisan interest in getting it done.”