As a result of reforms legislated in 1983, Social Security had been running a cash surplus with taxes exceeding costs up until 2009. This surplus in the Social Security trust fund helped to hold down the unified budget deficit. The cash surplus ended in 2009, when the trust fund began using a portion of its interest earnings to cover benefit payments. The 2014 Social Security Trustees’ report projects that the trust fund will not return to cash surplus, but the program will continue to experience an overall surplus for several more years because of the interest earnings. After that, however, Social Security will begin to draw on its trust fund balances to cover current expenditures.
Note above that the Social Security surplus “helped to hold down the unified budget deficit.” It’s all in one pool, not a separate, distinct fund. This situation was confirmed when, during the debate about the raising the debt ceiling in the summer of 2011, the President said he could not guarantee the Social Security checks would go out on time. Why didn’t Congress counter with: “That’s just a scare tactic, because the money is in a separate trust fund”? They didn’t say that, because it’s not true.
The Federal Government uses the term “trust fund” differently than the way in which it is commonly used…the Federal Government owns and manages the assets and the earnings of most Federal trust funds and can unilaterally change the law to raise or lower future trust fund collections and payments or change the purpose for which the collections are used. [Emphasis added]