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From the category archives: Retirement

The Social Security Disconnect Between Congress and Everywhere Else

It’s that time of the year (just days before Election Day) when every Congressional candidate extolls the virtue of Social Security.  Too many of these candidates will then return to Congress (with your vote) singing a different tune lamenting that America simply “can’t afford entitlements” like Social Security and Medicare.  Only after Election Day will you discover that “save” actually means “slash” and “protect” means “privatize.” They’ll claim your benefits must be cut or programs privatized to “save” the programs for future generations.  The problem is...that’s simply not true and the American people of all political parties, ages and incomes don’t believe that cutting benefits is the best way to strengthen Social Security.

This Social Security disconnect is illustrated in a big way in a new report released today by the National Academy of Social Insurance“Americans Make Hard Choices on Social Security” shows that Americans’ support for Social Security is unparalleled and they are willing to pay more in taxes to stabilize the system’s finances and improve benefits.  We highly recommend you read the entire study (it’s important!) but here are some key highlights:

To gauge Americans’ policy preferences, the survey used trade-off analysis — a technique that is widely used in market research to learn which product features consumers want and are willing to pay for. The trade-off exercise allowed survey participants to choose among different packages of Social Security changes. As lawmakers would do, they weighed how each policy change would affect workers, retirees, and the program’s future financing gap, and then chose among different packages of reforms.

Seven out of 10 participants prefer a package that would eliminate Social Security’s long-term financing gap without cutting benefits. The preferred package would:

  • Gradually, over 10 years, eliminate the cap on earnings taxed for Social Security. With this change, the 6% of workers who earn more than the cap would pay into Social Security all year, as other workers do. In return, they would get somewhat higher benefits.
  • Gradually, over 20 years, raise the Social Security tax rate that workers and employers each pay from 6.2% of earnings to 7.2%. A worker earning $50,000 a year would pay about 50 cents a week more each year, matched by the employer.
  • Increase Social Security’s cost-of-living adjustment to reflect the inflation experienced by seniors.
  • Raise Social Security’s minimum benefit so that a worker who pays into Social Security for 30 years or more can retire at 62 or later and have benefits above the federal poverty line.

Again, not only do Americans value Social Security they are willing to pay to sustain and improve it.  This package was preferred by large majorities across political parties and income levels. 68% of Republicans, 74% of Democrats, and 73% of independents favored this no-cuts plan, as do 71% of study participants with incomes above $75,000 and 68% of those with incomes under $35,000. 

We suggest that if you see a political candidate on the campaign trail between now and Election Day ask him/her about this plan and its support by the vast majority of all Americans.   Will they support fixing Social Security’s long-term solvency while also improving benefits without cutting the program?

It can be done, if only there was the political will to do it.

National Committee Member Sues SSA for Survivor Benefits in Same Sex Marriage Case

Lambda Legal Sues Social Security Administration on Behalf of Texas Lesbian Widow and National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare

“SSA should not be telling widowed lesbians and gay men already grieving the loss of a spouse—‘you live in the wrong state so you don’t get social security spousal benefits.’”

Today Lambda Legal filed suit against the Social Security Administration (SSA) on behalf of Kathy Murphy, a Texas widow denied spousal benefits after the death of her wife, and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (the National Committee), arguing that denying Social Security benefits to same-sex spouses because they live in states that discriminate against  their marriages violates the U.S. Constitution. The Supreme Court struck down federal discrimination against same-sex spouses last year in United States v. Windsor ; Lambda Legal argues that SSA cannot perpetuate the same kind of discrimination now and leave lesbian and gay spouses without the financial protections of social security as they age.

“SSA should not be telling widowed lesbians and gay men already grieving the loss of a spouse—‘you live in the wrong state so you don’t get Social Security spousal benefits,’” said Susan Sommer, Director of Constitutional Litigation at Lambda Legal. “Thousands of same-sex spouses, like our client Kathy Murphy, have married, even though their home states refuse to recognize their relationships.  Since Windsor, these aging lesbian and gay Americans believe that, at the very least, their marriages finally will be respected by the federal government.  But, relying on discriminatory state marriage bans declared unconstitutional by an avalanche of courts around the country, SSA continues to deny same-sex spouses their benefits. Widows, widowers and retirees, wherever they live, need Social Security spousal benefits, earned through years of hard work, to support them as they age. They should not have to wait one more day to be treated with dignity by the federal government.”

For more than 30 years, Texas residents Kathy Murphy, 62, and Sara Barker shared their lives together.  Three decades after they first met, Kathy and Sara legally married in Massachusetts in 2010.  Like other married couples, they hoped to grow old together and to live out their retirement years in safety, security, and dignity.  Tragically, Sara lost her battle with cancer in March 2012 at age 62, leaving Kathy a widow. Because the couple lived in Texas, which refuses to recognize their marriage, SSA also won’t recognize the marriage, denying Kathy spousal survivor’s benefits earned by Sara over a life-time of work.

“Sara and I were blessed with nearly 32 years together, taking care of each other in all the ways any committed couple does - physically, emotionally and financially. Sara wouldn’t have wanted me to be in a position like this—we promised to support each other as a couple and if one of us should pass away. We worked hard to close all the gaps before she died and now the federal government won’t do its part. That money will ensure that I can take care of the home that Sara and I shared together,” Kathy said.  “We worked hard to support ourselves, and our dream was to grow old together, side-by-side.  My hope now is that I will be treated no differently than any surviving spouse who has faced this same devastating loss.”

“The basic tenets of the Social Security program are that if you contribute to the system throughout your working life, you and your family will receive those earned benefits in retirement, death or disability,” said Max Richtman, President and CEO of the National Committee. “There is no rational reason why a couple living in Texas, or any other state, should continue to face this type of discrimination including the denial of the Social Security spousal benefits they have earned throughout their working lifetimes. It’s long past time to right this wrong.”

The National Committee, the organizational plaintiff in the case, is a Washington, DC-based advocacy organization dedicated to protecting Social Security for all generations and communities, including same-sex couples and their families. Kathy Murphy is a member of the National Committee.

The complaint filed in the District of Columbia federal district court today by Lambda Legal and co-counsel Dechert LLP argues that SSA’s refusal to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples who live in states that discriminate against their marriages, and denial of Social Security benefits to deserving spouses, violates the federal Constitution.  SSA should not rely on discriminatory state marriage bans that have been declared unconstitutional by state and federal courts far and wide throughout the country as the basis to deny hard-earned spousal benefits. 

Those with questions or concerns about discrimination or denial of a protection to which they are entitled should contact Lambda Legal’s Help Desk at 1-866-542-8336 or visit www.lambdalegal.org/help.

Read the complaint to the court here.


 


 

Poorer, Older and Sicker: The Challenges Facing America's Senior Women

New Women's Initiative Focuses on Income Inequality, Health and Retirement Security

“Eleanor’s Hope” continues Roosevelt legacy of social progress
 

The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare was joined by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Congresswoman Gwen Moore (D-WI), NOW President Terry O’Neill and Tufts Health Plan President/CEO, James Roosevelt, Jr. on a press call today to announce the launch of a new national initiative called Eleanor’s Hope, to help bring an end to the disparity between men’s and women’s income, health and retirement security.

“The National Committee is excited to launch the “Eleanor’s Hope” initiative today with the support of many influential allies and Members of Congress. Women have a lot at stake in November’s election and beyond.  Through grassroots advocacy and education in our communities and on Capitol Hill, the “Eleanor’s Hope” project will raise awareness, recruit and train new activists, highlight female leaders who are making a difference and generate national interest in women’s health and retirement security issues leading up to the 2014 and 2016 elections.”... Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO

The National Committee was founded in 1982 by Eleanor & Franklin Roosevelt’s son, former Congressman James Roosevelt. It is that Roosevelt heritage, and in the spirit of Eleanor’s work on women’s and social issues, that this new project will honor her name.

“Social Security has contributed to the financial well-being of almost every American family and is among my grandparents’ greatest legacies. My grandmother’s activism for women’s equity, poverty prevention and other social issues was based on her boundless optimism that the American people could move mountains if only freed from the fear of want and destitution.  Her hope has yet to be fully realized for too many Americans -- I believe the Eleanor’s Hope initiative will help to change that.”.... James Roosevelt, Jr., President/CEO Tufts Health Plan & Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s grandson 

While Social Security is a program that is vitally important to all Americans, it is especially important to the financial security of women. Not only do women, on average, live longer than men they also earn less in Social Security benefits. These fiscal realities facing millions of American women increase the risk that they may outlive their savings, impoverishing them and their families.

"We are on the front edge of a retirement crisis, which means that protecting and expanding Social Security is an increasingly important part of improving retirement security. Because women earn less than men, they are more vulnerable in retirement.  I’m happy the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare is focusing on this issue through the Eleanor's Hope initiative," Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) said. "For nearly half of women age 65 and older, Social Security is all that stands between them and poverty. We must keep our commitment to our seniors by strengthening Social Security, so that after a lifetime of hard work, everyone has a chance to retire with dignity.”

“The time is now to address and improve the fiscal outlook for Social Security and extend the solvency of the system. Women, people of color and low-income families are counting on us to update and improve this critical social safety net. This is why the National Committee’s 'Eleanor’s Hope' initiative is so vital. Through advocacy, recruitment, and training programs, America’s female leaders are given a valuable platform to raise awareness around the health and retirement security issues of our American women and girls. I'm proud to be a part of this important effort.”... Congresswoman Gwen Moore (D-WI) 

When it comes to the issues of retirement security and gender equity, the differences in policy choices offered by candidates are stark.  The future of generations of women and their families depend on providing income equality during their working years and strong Social Security and Medicare programs in their retirement, so women have a lot at stake in these upcoming elections. 

Women are the sole or primary breadwinners in nearly half of all families in the U.S. -- yet two-thirds of minimum wage workers, and nearly 80 percent of sub-minimum wage tipped workers, are women.  Candidates for office need to realize that women, along with the men in their lives, will vote for those who support wage equality and policies that ensure their retirement security.”...Terry O’Neill, NOW President

The goal of Eleanor’s Hope is to raise awareness through community–based and on-line education, recruit and train new activists, and bolster Congressional leaders who are making a difference on women’s income, health and retirement security issues.  We’ll advocate for legislation that addresses the inequities threatening millions of retired women.  Some of the National Committee’s proposals for improving benefits in Social Security and Medicare include:

  • Providing Social Security credits for caregivers
  • Improving Social Security survivor benefits
  • Equalizing Social Security’s rules for disabled widows
  • Strengthening the Social Security Cost of Living Allowance
  • Boosting the basic Social Security benefit of all current and future beneficiaries
  • Building on preventive care provisions in the Affordable Care Act and expanding coordination of care for beneficiaries with multiple chronic conditions.
  • Generating greater savings on the cost of prescription drugs by increasing manufacturer discounts, allowing Medicare to receive the same drug rebates as Medicaid for dual-eligibles, and promoting lower drug costs by providing for faster development of generic drugs. 

The National Committee will hold a Congressional staff briefing, Tuesday, October 14th, on the issues and policy prescriptions needed to address the income inequality, retirement insecurity and health inequities facing women. Then on October 15th we’ll join members of the nation’s only all-female Congressional delegation in New Hampshire to talk about the “Eleanor’s Hope” initiative.  Nationwide, our activists are already in the field educating, advocating and collecting “Eleanor’s Hope” pledges from women who have promised to get out and vote in November and beyond.  We’ve also engaged our membership and active on-line communities to convince Washington that now’s the time to address the retirement crisis facing millions of American women and their families.

Social Security Resumes Statement Mailings

We were happy to find this in our email box today:

Dear Colleague:

I am pleased to announce that, beginning this month, we are resuming periodic mailings of paper Social Security Statements to workers age 18 and older.  Even though most workers will receive a mailing every 5 years, we encourage everyone to create a secure my Social Security account at socialsecurity.gov/myaccount, which will allow them immediate access to their online Statement anytime.

The Statement is a valuable financial planning tool providing workers with important individualized information regarding their earnings, tax contributions, and estimates for future retirement, disability and survivors benefits.

Please read the full press release, including a statement by Social Security’s Acting Commissioner, Carolyn W. Colvin, here.

Thank you for your continued support as we strive to keep workers informed about Social Security. Please help us encourage all workers to sign up for a my Social Security account to regularly review their earnings record and obtain estimates of future benefits for themselves and their families.

We've long advocated for the resumption of mailing paper statements to the many seniors who don't have access to or fluency on the internet and are thankful the SSA has resumed these mailings. 

Social Security and Hispanic Americans

Social Security protects millions of American families in retirement or when a loved one becomes disabled or dies.  These guaranteed benefits are especially important to people of color who tend to have fewer alternative resources, become disabled at higher rates, and rely on Social Security's family benefits disproportionately.

As we mark Hispanic Heritage month in September it’s important to understand the vital role Social Security plays in the lives of Hispanic Americans.

Did you know?

  • Almost three-fourths (74%) of Hispanic beneficiaries rely on Social Security for at least half their income compared to almost two-thirds (64%) of all beneficiaries.
  • Approximately 53% of Hispanic beneficiaries rely on Social Security for 90% or more of their income.
  • Approximately 46% of Hispanic beneficiaries rely on Social Security for all of their income.

Minorities rely more heavily on Social Security due to a lack of other income in retirement.  Few elderly minorities receive income from pensions and assets.  The greatest disparity is in the receipt of income from assets.

  • In 2012, 25% of Hispanics received income from private assets, compared with more than 55% of whites
  • In 2012, 13% of Hispanics 65 years old and over reported receiving income from private pensions or annuities, compared to 28% of whites 65 years old and older

Elderly Hispanics are more dependent on Social Security than others because they are more likely to be in poverty than non-Hispanic elderly.

Speakers at the 2014 Latino Retirement Security Summit addressed the importance Social Security plays in the Hispanic community and the need for Latinos to engage Congress on issues such as preserving Social Security, Medicare and immigration reform.  Contrary to immigration reform myths so common during campaign season, the truth is the Social Security program would benefit if undocumented immigrants were given legal status:

“The evidence is clear that the newly legalized will have a positive effect on the solvency of the Social Security system. On top of the many other positive impacts of bringing the undocumented out of the shadows, these results indicate that providing legal status and a pathway to citizenship to the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in this country would have a sizeable impact on the ability to provide full pensions to the Baby Boomers in the years to come.” Center for American Progress, “The Benefits of Immigration Reform to Social Security”

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