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From the category archives: Social Security

Lamb's Victory a Win for Social Security, Medicare, and Working Americans Everywhere


Not only is Democrat Conor Lamb’s victory in Pennsylvania’s special Congressional election a rebuke to President Trump, it is an affirmation that voters want Social Security and Medicare to be vigorously protected.  Last month, the National Committee endorsed Lamb, a U.S. Marine and former federal prosecutor who champions Americans’ retirement and health security.

 “Our nation needs his leadership, vision and determination to fight for working families and older Americans.  Conor Lamb understands and supports the critical roles that Social Security and Medicare play in the lives of our nation’s older citizens and their families.  We look forward to working with Conor Lamb to protect – if not expand – Americans’ earned benefits.”” - National Committee president and CEO Max Richtman.

On Wednesday, President Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan twisted themselves into knots trying to spin Lamb’s victory as a win for conservatism. Though Lamb took a few conservative positions (as well he might in a historically Republican district), his support for programs benefitting working families was rock solid.

 *He promised to boost Social Security benefits and expand Medicare to cover hearing, vision, and dental care – and to protect both programs from GOP attempts to cut and privatize them.

 *He opposed the Trump/GOP tax scam, calling it a “giveaway” to the wealthy, advocating instead for a tax cut truly aimed at “working and middle class people” without adding to the debt.

 *He railed against GOP attempts to repeal and undermine Obamacare, promising to work to “help people with pre-existing conditions, improve the quality of care, and reduce premiums, out-of-pocket costs, and prescription drug prices.”

On issue after issue, Lamb is unabashedly on the side of working Americans.  This election was a test of voters commitment to these issues – and the results were clear. The fact that Lamb earned more votes – albeit by a razor-thin margin – in a deep red district where the Democrats didn’t even field a candidate in the previous two elections proves that voters want to protect working people’s interests. 

Health care, in particular, was voters’ top-ranking concern in Pennsylvania’s special election, according to an exit poll released yesterday. As The Hill newspaper reports, “For 52 percent of voters, health care [was the] top issue when deciding who to vote for, while 19 percent said it wasn’t at all important to them.” 

 The poll also found that 53 percent disapprove of Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare, while 39 percent approve. This is leading some Democrats to think health care could be a winning issue for them in the 2018 midterms, when they hope to retake seats in Congress. – The Hill newspaper, 3/15/18

For more than a year, President Trump and Congressional Republicans have engaged in a war against the programs that working Americans rely on for basic income and health security – while passing trillions of dollars in tax breaks for the wealthy and big corporations.  Working people’s well-being hinges on electing more defenders of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Obamacare to Congress this Fall.  With the 2018 Congressional elections drawing closer, Conor Lamb’s victory is a positive harbinger for those who fight for the working class, and a warning to those who don’t.

Watch our live analysis of Conor Lamb's win on "Behind the Headlines" via Facebook Live. 

A New Commissioner and Boosted Budget Would Go a Long Way at SSA

National Committee president Max Richtman expressed deep concern today about the lack of an appointed leader at the Social Security Administration (SSA) --- and inadequate funding for the agency.   Appearing before the House Social Security subcommittee, Richtman said that SSA “needs strong leadership” to achieve its mission, and that a new Commissioner should be nominated and confirmed.  However, Richtman testified, a new Commissioner will not be able “to deal with the agency’s significant challenges” without sufficient funding. 

“Unfortunately, what we have seen in recent years is a steady decline in funding for the agency at exactly the same time that its workload has soared.” – Max Richtman, National Committee president, 3/7/18

SSA, which serves 67 million Americans receiving Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), has been led by a series of acting directors for the past five years.  The Republican-led Senate refused to confirm President Obama’s nominee, Carolyn Colvin, who departed as acting Commissioner after the Trump administration took office.  President Trump has yet to nominate a Commissioner (one of the hundreds of crucial federal appointments he has failed to make), leaving a new acting chief, Nancy Berryhill, to lead the beleaguered agency.

“The Trump administration demonstrates its lack of concern for the millions of seniors and disabled collecting Social Security by leaving the agency that administers this program without a confirmed Commissioner.” – Max Richtman, 3/7/18

Meanwhile, SSA has been hobbled by draconian cuts to its operating budget for the past seven years. In fact, Congress has slashed SSA’s budget by 11% (adjusted for inflation) since 2010, notwithstanding the 10,000 Baby Boomers who turn 65 every single day.  As Richtman testified, funding cuts have caused needless headaches and delays for beneficiaries.

“SSA has already made cuts in customer service to stay within the confines of these extremely tight budgets, forcing it to close field offices, shorten office hours and shrink staff.  While SSA has increased automation and reduced the number of Social Security statements it provides, these efficiencies cannot compensate for the fact that SSA serves an additional one million beneficiaries each year.” – Max Richtman, 3/7/18

These cutbacks take a real human toll.  Seniors have to wait on hold for an average eighteen minutes on SSA’s toll-free phone line, if they don’t get a busy signal.  Many hang up – and have to call back several times to get a human being on the phone.  Elderly beneficiaries encounter long lines, often with no place to sit, at the diminishing number of SSA field offices around the country.  The average wait time for a Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) hearing has soared to over 600 days.  Shockingly, an estimated 10,000 disabled claimants died in FY 2017 awaiting hearings

Amid this unnecessary delay and suffering, President Trump’s 2019 budget calls for nearly $90 million in additional cuts to the Social Security Administration budget – an effective reduction of $450 million when factoring in SSA’s inflationary costs.  This kind of cut would force the agency to freeze hiring, furlough employees, shutter additional field offices, or further restrict field office hours – leading to even longer wait times. 

Richtman called on Congressional appropriators to use funds freed up in the recent bipartisan budget deal to boost SSA funding.  The National Committee would like to see an appropriation of at least $560 million over the FY 2017 level of $12.482 billion.  This increase would help restore cuts made since 2010 and cover inflationary increases in operating costs.  Richtman says a similar boost should be included in the FY 2019 appropriations bill, so that when a leader is appointed and confirmed, he or she will have adequate resources to turn the agency around.

“We want that confirmed Commissioner to have the all the resources he or she needs to conquer the customer service issues currently plaguing SSA.” – Max Richtman, 3/7/18

 Read Max's full testimony here

Lifting Social Security Payroll Tax Cap Would be a Valentine to Seniors

This Valentine’s Day marks the date when Americans with wages exceeding $1 million stop paying into Social Security for the year.  That’s because anyone earning at least that much hits the Social Security payroll tax cap of $128,400, barely seven weeks into 2018.  In stark contrast, the average American worker contributes payroll taxes throughout the year.  

“This red letter day takes on added significance because of the need to address the long-term solvency of Social Security and a political climate where seniors’ earned benefits are under constant threat.” - Max Richtman, president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.

The payroll tax cap prevents billions of additional dollars from flowing into the Social Security Trust fund, which is projected to be able to pay about 80% of benefits beginning in 2034 if Congress takes no action. While some on the political right have advocated cutting benefits and raising the retirement age to address the shortfall, the National Committee believes that benefits should be boosted and the program’s solvency strengthened by lifting the payroll tax cap – so that millionaires pay their fair share. 

"Normal Americans pay social security tax on every cent of income they earn throughout their entire lives, but millionaires like me pay it on just a fraction of our earnings. By raising the cap on payroll taxes, we can guarantee that millionaires pay the same rate as everyone else, and we can ensure that our seniors live and retire in dignity." - Morris Pearl, Chair of Patriotic Millionaires 
"Instead of providing massive tax cuts to the richest one percent, we should be making them pay their fair share by scrapping the cap.  America is facing a retirement crisis, and by scrapping by the cap, we can ensure fully-funded Social Security benefits for all generations to come." - Frank Clemente, Executive Director, Americans for Tax Fairness,
Raising the payroll tax cap needn’t be an elusive goal.  There is already legislation in Congress to do just that.  Senator Bernie Sanders’ Social Security Expansion Act would subject earned income over $250,000 to the Social Security payroll tax. Congressman John Larson’s Social Security 2100 Act would apply the payroll tax to wages above $400,000, then phase out the cap altogether.  Both bills would modestly increase Social Security benefits and keep the system solvent for most of this century.
Perhaps someday – I hope very soon – we will not have to mark this day in mid-February that represents such a gross disparity in what working Americans and the wealthy contribute to Social Security.” - Max Richtman.

 For a more detailed analysis of the President's 2019 budget, click here

Bipartisan Budget Bill a Pretty Good Deal for Seniors

The bipartisan budget bill passed by Congress early this morning is, on balance, good news for seniors and the federal programs that provide them with financial and health security. 

“Seniors will feel these changes in their pocketbooks and even in the way they feel physically. We have been fighting for these measures for quite some time and are happy to see Congress take action on a bipartisan basis.” - Max Richtman, National Committee president 

On the positive side, the budget bill:

*Closes Medicare Part D “donut hole” in 2019.  The prescription drug coverage gap embedded in the original law, which the Affordable Care Act has been gradually closing, will be altogether eliminated one year early. This will save seniors thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket prescription drug costs.

*Repeals Medicare therapy caps.  The bill scraps arbitrary caps on physical, speech, language and occupational therapies that have cost seniors money – or delayed care at crucial times.  Beneficiaries will now find it easier – and more affordable – to get the therapies they need without undue interruption. 

*Lifts non-defense domestic spending caps, allowing Congress to appropriate more adequate funding for the Social Security Administration’s operating budget. The SSA has suffered from draconian budget cuts since 2011 which have impinged on customer service, even as 10,000 Baby Boomers retire every day.  This badly-needed (but yet unspecified) higher level of funding should allow SSA to improve customer service for the program’s 67 million beneficiaries.

On the negative side, the bill increases Medicare premiums for some individuals by further expanding Medicare means-testing. 

“Congress continues to expand Medicare means-testing, and they will not stop until middle-class seniors are burdened with higher Medicare premiums.” - Max Richtman.

Here is a more detailed summary of the budget bill’s implications for seniors. 

For more on this story, view our Behind the Headlines broadcast live from Capitol Hill here

SSA Funding Cuts Will Hurt the Disabled, Retirees, and Children

National Committee President Max Richtman joined advocates and elected representatives on Capitol Hill today to demand that Congress adequately fund the Social Security Administration (SSA).   Richtman, Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Bob Casey (D-PA) railed against Republican plans to cut nearly $500 million from the Social Security Administration's operating budget in the upcoming government funding bill.

The agency has been woefully underfunded since 2011 and Social Security claimants have been paying the price in the form of reduced service and long wait times.  Social Security's core operating budget shrank by 11 percent from 2010 to 2017 in inflation-adjusted terms. This occurred even as 10,000 baby boomers a day reach retirement age.  Congress has the ability to solve this problem, but has not signaled a willingness to do so.  

The House-approved FY 2018 appropriations legislation would continue underfunding the agency, freezing SSA's operating funds for another year.  The Senate Appropriations Committee has proposed an even more painful reduction of $460 million, nearly 4 percent of the operating budget. 

At today’s event on Capitol Hill, Max Richtman highlighted the costs of SSA budget cuts to applicants and claimants:

“The result of this neglect is obvious.  When workloads increase, and funding is cut, service suffers – big time. The money to adequately fund the administration of Social Security is there. But the collective conscience of Congressional leaders is absent. Time and again, they have knowingly cut the number of lifelines available to workers, retirees, the disabled and their families.” – Max Richtman, president of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, 1/18/18

In fact, some 10,000 disabled Americans died last year waiting for a Social Security disability hearing. That shameful figure alone should be a compelling enough argument for restoring SSA’s funding to adequate levels. Budget cuts have forced SSA to close more than 60 field offices across the country, reducing in-person access to services. The average wait time on SSA’s toll-free number is 18 minutes.  The average national wait time for a disability hearing exceeded 600 days in 2017.  Ironically, these service cuts come at a time when 10,000 Baby Boomers become eligible for Social Security every day.

 “The enemies of Social Security in Congress are making a very bad situation even worse (by proposing cuts to SSA’s operating budget.)  They want to make it impossible to effectively administer the program, and ultimately want to destroy Social Security.” – Senator Bernie Sanders, 1/18/18

“America made a promise to Social Security beneficiaries.  America must honor its promise and that means no cuts to the Social Security Administration.  We must make sure that seniors, the disabled, and survivors of beneficiaries receive the benefits they are entitled to.” – Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), 1/18/18

Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) decried the majority party’s “maniacal obsession” with cutting costs “in the most pernicious way,” making it harder for the Social Security Administration to carry out its mission.

SSA is funded through workers’ Social Security payroll contributions and not from general revenue.  The agency is one of the most efficient in the entire federal government, spending less than 1% of its revenue on administrative costs.  Congress is wrong to leave the agency so grossly underfunded, but some lawmakers may have a hidden agenda in letting SSA languish. 

 “Starving the Social Security Administration’s administrative funding is not only pennywise and pound foolish, it also amounts to a backdoor way to dismantle Social Security by eroding the public’s confidence in the program.”  - Max Richtman, 1/18/18

It is not outrageous to suggest that the budget-induced aggravation and delay confronting claimants would, indeed, undercut public support for Social Security, smoothing the way for actual benefit cuts later. 

The retired, disabled and survivor constituents of members of Congress deserve better. That’s why the National Committee urges Congress to reject the Senate Appropriations Committee's $460 million cut and instead increase Social Security’s operating budget so it can do its job for the American people:  a job they deserve, and as it happens, a job for which they have pre-paid.

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