Rep. Pete Stark, 80, has seven children; three are minors, the product of his third marriage. He once told the Los Angeles Times that he calls the three youngest his "second litter." Lucky Stark. Thanks to a dated Social Security system, he enjoys a "second-litter" subsidy.
As Carolyn Lochhead wrote in The Chronicle, Stark has reported a net worth as high as $27 million, and he earns $174,000 as a member of Congress. Nonetheless, Stark's three minor children are collecting benefits from Social Security.
The Social Security Administration estimates that 4.4.million kids, mostly children of deceased or disabled parents, receive $2.5 billion each month; 609,000 minors receive an average monthly benefit of $605 because their parents are retired.
Heritage Foundation Senior Fellow David John told me that Washington created the children's benefit in 1939, when "most families were one-earner families. When a father retired, there was no more money coming in." The children's benefit, John said, "was really meant as a protection for someone who has essentially little income."
America's demographics have changed a lot since 1939, but the children's benefit has not adapted. A program designed to keep poor families afloat after the retirement of a breadwinner has morphed into a "second-litter" subsidy for older men who start second families.
Dublin City Councilman Eric Swalwell, a Democrat, is challenging Stark in November. Swalwell has no problem with Stark cashing his Social Security check. "He receives his own benefit check, which he's entitled to receive," Swalwell said. (The government makes retirees accept benefits when they turn 70.)
But when it comes to the children's benefit, which was designed to provide the necessities of life so children could complete high school, Swalwell accused Stark of "gaming the system." The program, Swalwell added, wasn't meant "for the children of millionaires."
Swalwell proposes an earnings cap for children's benefits, similar to the income cap for retirees who sign up for Social Security before they reach full retirement age (66 now).
Stark campaign manager Sharon Cornu sent me a statement that accused Swalwell of joining "the Ryan-Romney plan to undermine Social Security as we know it." She has accused Swalwell of pushing "means-testing" for Social Security.
That would be fine by me. Not Swalwell -- he counters that he wants an earnings threshold only for the children's benefit. "To me, that was not meant for somebody who was drawing a $174,000 salary."
More from Cornu: "Stark has spent a lifetime protecting the rights of seniors and fighting to make Social Security stronger so it is able to deliver on its promise to all Americans."
Wrong. If Stark wanted to protect Social Security, his family wouldn't cash in on a benefit designed to protect income-starved nuclear families that, thanks to Washington's lethargy, turned into a financial bonus for old guys with new families.