As lawmakers negotiate over the terms of the fourth, and most likely final, coronavirus relief bill, most Americans are focused on whether the legislation will provide more COVID-19 stimulus money. While that's an important consideration, there's talk that something even more important for your financial future could find its way into the legislation.
That something is the TRUST Act. It was introduced by Senator Mitt Romney last October with bipartisan support, and Republican lawmakers have reportedly been discussing including it in the next COVID-19 bill. If they do, this could mean that big changes to the Social Security benefits program become part of the big picture.
What does the TRUST Act Do?
The Time to Rescue United States Trusts Act (TRUST Act) was introduced by Senators Doug Jones (D-AL), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Mitt Romney (R-UT), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), and Todd Young (R-IN), along with Representatives Ed Case (D-HI), Mike Gallagher (R-WI), Ben McAdams (D-UT), Scott Peters (D-CA), and William Timmons (R-SC).
The purpose of the Act is to establish separate commissions aimed at preventing the insolvency of federal trust fund programs that spend in excess of $20 billion annually and that are projected to be out of money by 2035. This includes both the Social Security and Medicare trust funds.
Each commission would be made up of 12 members total, with members selected by the Senate majority and minority leaders and the House Speaker and minority leader. The job of the commissions would be to produce legislation to shore up the trust funds, simplify the programs they support, and ensure the funds remain solvent. They'd have wide latitude to make proposals, but any suggestion put forth for a fix would need support from at least two members of each party.
While lawmakers wouldn't have to take up their proposed legislation, the goal is for these commissions to be able to negotiate and innovate out of the spotlight and hopefully come up with a plan that could secure the financial stability of some of the nation's most important entitlement programs.
Will the TRUST Act be included in the next coronavirus relief bill?
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have expressed support for passing some type of coronavirus legislation in late July or early August.
If they do, the bill could provide a unique opportunity for action on Social Security. After all, with Republicans and Democrats sharply divided on most issues, there are very few chances for big compromise bills to pass both the House and Senate. A fourth coronavirus relief package could be one of them, as it's often easier for politicians to react in response to a crisis if they're forced into a compromise by the public demanding action.
Including the TRUST Act in a coronavirus bill, as some Republicans are proposing , could also make sense, as coronavirus is likely to push forward the date when Social Security's trust fund becomes insolvent. It's possible the fund will run out of money within the next decade due to the economic effects of COVID-19. The longer lawmakers wait to find a fix to this looming problem, the costlier it will become.
Still, there's strong opposition to the TRUST Act, with powerful groups condemning it as an attempt to cut benefits behind closed doors. So in order for the TRUST Act to find its way into the bill, Democrats would likely need to be convinced it's not a stealth attack on Social Security, and Republicans would likely need to allow lawmakers on the left to include some of their wish-list items in the coronavirus legislation in exchange.
Whether that type of compromise is possible will depend on lots of factors, including how aggressively Republicans push for Social Security legislation to be included, and how dire the need is for additional coronavirus aid when lawmakers return from their July 4th recess.
Be prepared for Social Security changes, one way or another
Whether or not the TRUST Act passes, lawmakers are going to have to address Social Security's financial problems -- most likely sooner rather than later. And when they do, any action they take is almost assuredly going to reduce your benefits in some way. With benefits already insufficient to provide enough income for a comfortable retirement, every American should be taking steps to ensure their own financial security.
If you save throughout your career, invest wisely, and build a large enough nest egg, you can use Social Security benefits to supplement your savings and enjoy life -- but can also retire with the confidence your needs will be met no matter what the government does to Social Security in the future.