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From the category archives: Social Security

Scrapping the Cap: National Committee endorses Bernie’s new Social Security Bill; Marks the Day Millionaires Stop Paying payroll taxes.

Senator Bernie Sanders and Rep. Peter DeFazio introduced landmark legislation yesterday to keep Social Security solvent for the next six decades --- without cutting anyone’s benefits.  The National Committee endorses the bill, titled the Social Security Expansion Act, introduced on the day when the average millionaire reaches the payroll tax income cap of $127,000 per year.

National Committee President Max Richtman joined Senator Sanders, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Rep DeFazio and other dignitaries and advocacy groups on Capitol Hill to mark the day and support the new legislation, which would require high-earners to pay Social Security taxes on annual income over $250,000. 

The bill doesn’t “scrap the cap” right away; but for now only income between $127,000 and $250,000 would be exempt from payroll taxes.  Eventually the cap would phased out and completely scrapped.   The expanded payroll taxes (which only affect the top 1.5% of earners) would keep the Social Security Trust Fund flush until at least 2078.   

"We can expand the life of Social Security for 61 years, if we have the guts to tell millionaires and billionaires they’re going to have to pay more in taxes.” – Sen. Bernie Sanders

Senator Warren passionately defended the bill, saying it is necessary because, under current law:

"...Once [the wealthy] hit the cap, they can earn and earn and earn without paying into the system.  We want a Social Security system that works of all America, not just the millionaires and billionaires.” – Sen. Elizabeth Warren

NCPSSM President Max Richtman referred to a favorite metaphor involving a high-earning NBA superstar paying into Social Security.  “He’s already hit the cap and is done contributing before the first quarter of the first game of the season is over.” On a more serious note, he continued, “We are here today to say that for those who have so much, it is only right that they pay their fair share into the Social Security program.”

Richtman used the occasion to recall the words of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who started the Social Security system:

"The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much, it is whether we provide enough for those who have little."  - FDR

In addition to lifting the cap, the Sanders-DeFazio bill increases Social Security benefits by an estimated $65 a month, improves the Special Minimum Benefit by making it easier for low-income workers to qualify for benefits, and links the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) formula to a new Consumer Price Index for the Elderly (CPI-E) to factor in costs seniors traditionally face such as prescription drugs, utility bills and property taxes. 

 

New Poll Shows Majorities Do Not Support GOP Proposals for Social Security and Medicare

Americans overwhelmingly support traditional Social Security and Medicare and oppose benefit cuts, according to a new poll released this week by the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. At a time when Congressional Republicans are proposing to fundamentally alter both programs, strong majorities of voters want Congress to protect Social Security and Medicare – and intensely disagree with key provisions of GOP plans.

In the poll of likely voters, 79% favor increasing Social Security benefits --- and funding that increase by having wealthy Americans pay the same rate into Social Security as everyone else.   Seventy-seven percent oppose raising the Social Security retirement age to 69, and a whopping 93% favor allowing Medicare to negotiate to bring down the price of prescription drugs.

“These results prove that Americans want Congress to honor the commitment to all working people who paid into Social Security and Medicare, and keep their hands off these programs,” said Max Richtman, President and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. “This should be a warning to members of Congress that they tamper with our cherished social insurance programs at their peril.”

The poll results were released Tuesday at the U.S. Capitol by Richtman, with Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD); Rep. John Larson (D-CT); Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-CA); Celinda Lake, President Lake Research Partners; Witold Skwierczynski, President, National Council of SSA Field Operations Locals, Council 220, American Federation of Government Employees; Steve Hill, Director of Retirement Security Campaigns, SEIU; and Nancy Olumekor, Director, American Postal Workers Union Retiree Department.  

“Social Security and Medicare represent a promise America has made to all those participating in this system,” said Senator Van Hollen. “Americans overwhelmingly want to strengthen these essential lifelines. I strongly support efforts to ensure that these programs can increase benefits and continue to deliver financial security for generations to come.”

Representative Larson said the poll underscores popular support for the kinds of measures he proposes in his Social Security 2100 Act, which keeps the program solvent into the next century while increasing benefits.  “Social Security is not an entitlement; it’s insurance we paid for,” said Larson.  “Let’s say to President Trump:  join us in protecting and expanding Social Security.”

Representative Tony Cardenas (D-CA) made an emotional plea to preserve the two programs by citing a family story. “My grandson’s great-grandmother was saved by Medicare.  It’s a matter of dignity and life.”  He railed against proposals to privatize social insurance programs.  “Do we value dignity? Do we value life?  Make our President and our Congress commit that they will not take it away from you!”

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE POLL:

o   74% favor gradually requiring employees and employers to pay Social Security taxes on wages above $127K, including majorities across party lines.

o   75% favor including a Social Security benefits credit for up to five years of time spent outside the paid workforce caring for young children, aging seniors, or family members with disabilities.

o   65% oppose raising the Medicare eligibility age to 67.

The poll of 800 likely voters nationwide was commissioned by the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare and conducted by Lake Research Partners from January 4 to January 7, 2017. The poll was co-sponsored by the American Federation of Government Employees, American Postal Workers Union, Service Employees International Union and the United Steelworkers.

 

Congress: Stop Squeezing the Social Security Administration

We have written extensively in this space about cuts to the Social Security Administration budget negatively impacting customer service for beneficiaries.   This week, as Mary Beth Franklin reports in Investment News, the SSA announced that it would stop mailing paper statements to Social Security beneficiaries under 60 “due to serious budget constraints.” Beneficiaries over 60 who do not have an online “My Social Security” account will continue to receive paper statements (for the time being, anyway).

This is the latest in a slew of customer service reductions forced by draconian cuts to the agency’s budget in Congress.  The SSA goes on to say:

“In addition, we have enacted a hiring freeze and dramatically reduced overtime hours that help us process work after assisting customers in our offices and on the phone.”

Anyone who has tried to phone the SSA knows exactly what that means:  more wasted time waiting to talk to a customer service representative, if you reach one at all. In 2016, the average hold time for callers to the SSA’s 800 number was 15 minutes.  Ten percent of all callers got a busy signal. These stats will likely get worse this year.

Ironically, this week’s SSA announcement ends with the cheery affirmation, “Thank you for helping Social Security continue securing today and tomorrow as we rise to this challenge.”  Kudos to the SSA for putting a brave face on an extremely vexing situation.  

As the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities reported last June, the SSA has been struggling to provide proper customer service ever since Congress passed the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA), which included appropriations caps – further reduced by sequestration.  In fact, the SSA’s core operating budget has shrunk by 10 percent since 2010 (after adjusting for inflation), even as the demands on SSA have reached “all-time highs as the baby boomers have aged into their peak years for retirement and disability.”

These cuts resulted in an SSA hiring freeze, the closure of more than 60 field offices across the country, and lengthy delays in processing Disability Insurance (DI) applications appeals. (Some 1 million applicants are awaiting much-delayed hearings.)  Advocates of budget cuts may claim that beneficiaries can access services online, but the truth is that many seniors can’t get online – or are vastly more comfortable talking to a human being.

To some in Congress, the SSA budget may simply represent figures on a spreadsheet.  But the cuts imposed some 6 years ago continue to harm real people – the 59 million beneficiaries of Social Security who are being denied timely service.  Congress squeezes SSA’s budget even though the agency is funded by Social Security revenue (mostly from workers’ payroll contributions) and not from the general treasury.  Why then, does Congress insist on bleeding what is already one of the most efficient federal agencies?  One explanation is that those on Capitol Hill who are bent on cutting benefits and privatizing Social Security know that forcing customer service cutbacks feeds public frustration, undermining public support for the program in general.

The only responsible solution is to restore much-needed funding for the Social Security Administration – to undo the damage that began in 2011.  The SSA’s administrative budget for FY 2016 was $12.162 billion.  We support President Obama’s FY 2017 budget request of $13.067 billion, a badly needed 7% increase.  At this level of funding, the SSA could begin to restore the customer services it has been forced to cut.  After years of endless hold music, busy signals, shuttered field offices, and unreasonable wait times for hearings, we at the National Committee could finally stop filling this space with bad news for SSA’s customers.  

“In addition, we have enacted a hiring freeze and dramatically reduced overtime hours that help us process work after assisting customers in our offices and on the phone.”

Anyone who has tried to phone the SSA knows exactly what that means:  more wasted time waiting to talk to a customer service representative, if you reach one at all. In 2016, the average hold time for callers to the SSA’s 800 number was 15 minutes.  Ten percent of all callers got a busy signal. These stats will likely get worse this year.

Ironically, this week’s SSA announcement ends with the cheery affirmation, “Thank you for helping Social Security continue securing today and tomorrow as we rise to this challenge.”  Kudos to the SSA for putting a brave face on an extremely vexing situation.  

As the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities reported last June, the SSA has been struggling to provide proper customer service ever since Congress passed the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA), which included appropriations caps – further reduced by sequestration.  In fact, the SSA’s core operating budget has shrunk by 10 percent since 2010 (after adjusting for inflation), even as the demands on SSA have reached “all-time highs as the baby boomers have aged into their peak years for retirement and disability.”

These cuts resulted in an SSA hiring freeze, the closure of more than 60 field offices across the country, and lengthy delays in processing Disability Insurance (DI) applications appeals. (Some 1 million applicants are awaiting much-delayed hearings.)  Advocates of budget cuts may claim that beneficiaries can access services online, but the truth is that many seniors can’t get online – or are vastly more comfortable talking to a human being.

To some in Congress, the SSA budget may simply represent figures on a spreadsheet.  But the cuts imposed some 6 years ago continue to harm real people – the 59 million beneficiaries of Social Security who are being denied timely service.  Congress squeezes SSA’s budget even though the agency is funded by Social Security revenue (mostly from workers’ payroll contributions) and not from the general treasury.  Why then, does Congress insist on bleeding what is already one of the most efficient federal agencies?  One explanation is that those on Capitol Hill who are bent on cutting benefits and privatizing Social Security know that forcing customer service cutbacks feeds public frustration, undermining public support for the program in general.

The only responsible solution is to restore much-needed funding for the Social Security Administration – to undo the damage that began in 2011.  The SSA’s administrative budget for FY 2016 was $12.162 billion.  We support President Obama’s FY 2017 budget request of $13.067 billion, a badly needed 7% increase.  At this level of funding, the SSA could begin to restore the customer services it has been forced to cut.  After years of endless hold music, busy signals, shuttered field offices, and unreasonable wait times for hearings, we at the National Committee could finally stop filling this space with bad news for SSA’s customers.  

A Dangerous New Year for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid

At a family gathering over the holidays in Florida, the conversation inevitably turned to politics.  Some of the seniors at the table who voted for Trump expressed their certainty that no one in Washington will really touch their earned benefits.  “Trump’s not going to let the Congress cut Social Security,” said a Great Aunt in her 70s.  “Paul Ryan’s not really going to mess with Medicare,” insisted her husband. Of course, these beloved family members could not be more wrong.

Their complacency (or, in this case, complicity) sets up a dangerous opportunity for the GOP-controlled 115th Congress, which was just sworn in yesterday.  Claiming a mandate that most certainly does not exist, Congressional Republicans are rolling out proposals that will destroy Social Security and Medicare as we know them, not to mention deep cuts to Medicaid and the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.  These actions will hurt not only the seniors at the holiday table, but their children and grandchildren, too.  As we have been warning for years, all Americans have a lot to lose if these programs are compromised by capricious politicians.

President-Elect Trump shows no signs of honoring his campaign pledge not to touch Social and Medicare.  He has been strangely silent about Congressional proposals that will wreck these two programs, and his appointments to crucial administration positions speak volumes – most notably Rep. Tom Price (a notorious privatization proponent) as Health and Human Services Secretary and Rep. Rick Mulvaney (a fiscal hardliner) as director of the Office of Management and Budget --- a likely ally for Congressional Republicans looking to cut entitlements.

A quick survey of GOP proposals shows just how much current and future beneficiaries of these crucial income security programs have to lose.  House Social Security Subcommittee Chair Sam Johnson (R-TX) has introduced a so-called Social Security “reform” bill that will result in benefit cuts, raise the retirement age to 69, and reduce Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs) that seniors on fixed incomes rely on.  House Speaker Paul Ryan, who Tuesday gaveled the 115th Congress into session, has long promised to privatize Medicare, turning it into a voucher (or “Coupon Care”) program that would leave future beneficiaries to fend for themselves in the private insurance market while traditional Medicare slowly dies.  This will mean skyrocketing premiums and reduced coverage for seniors thrust into the private insurance market.

The 115th Congress just took the first procedural steps to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which not only jeopardizes health care coverage for 30 million Americans, but puts real improvements to Medicare at great risk.  If the Affordable Care Act is recklessly repealed, seniors will lose free preventative screenings under Medicare.  The Part D prescription drug “donut hole” will open up again, costing more than 11 million Medicare beneficiaries $2,100 per person on prescriptions.  Worse yet, Medicare beneficiaries will face higher premiums and deductibles to make up for the roughly $800 billion in cost savings that the ACA provided over 10 years.  Insurers will once again be able to overcharge or deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.

Combine this with GOP plans to block-grant Medicaid, which millions of seniors depend on for nursing home care and long term care services, and Americans are confronting a full-fledged assault on their earned benefits and income security.  As the 115th Congress convened yesterday, Democrats promised vigilance.  Incoming Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer declared from the Senate floor, “We demand that (Trump) keep his promise not to cut Social Security and Medicare… We will hold the President-elect accountable.”  On GOP efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, Schumer warned, “It is not acceptable to repeal the law, throw our health care system into chaos” and leave the solution for another day.  Senator Bernie Sanders has called for a national Day of Action on January 15th “to oppose any cuts to health-care plans or subsidies,” including rallies in Congressional districts across the country.

We stand with our allies on Capitol Hill, our fellow advocacy groups, and our millions of members to protect Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act.  We see the danger quite clearly… and hope that the seniors and their families who sat around holiday tables the past two weeks will, too.

 

 

Enjoy the Holidays. Ring in the New Year. Fight for Social Security and Medicare.

While we at the National Committee extend warm holiday wishes to all our readers, the joy of the season is overshadowed by the knowledge that the coming year is full of unprecedented peril for our cherished income security programs – and our health care.  

Throughout the year, we warned about the dangerous positions Trump and the GOP had taken on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act.  As early as March, we exposed Trump’s past statements in favor of raising the retirement age to 70 and privatization.  At the same time, we warned about renewed GOP plans to slash Medicare benefits.  In June, we predicted that Speaker Ryan and Donald Trump would eventually join forces to privatize Medicare.  After Donald Trump locked up the nomination, we flagged the dangers to Social Security in the Republican platform.  When Trump picked his running mate, we shined a harsh light on Mike Pence’s long history attacking Social Security and Medicare.  After the election, the National Committee began pushing back against the GOP’s race to dismantle our income security programs, beginning with a benefit-slashing bill by House Social Security Subcommittee Chair Sam Johnson, and Trump’s naming a notorious privatizer for Health and Human Services Secretary. 

Make no mistake about it, the GOP-led 115th Congress will waste no time implementing their plans to destroy Medicare and Social Security as we know it – and repeal the Affordable Care Act.  President-elect Trump has offered no assurance that he will stand by his campaign promise not to touch Social Security and Medicare, and as we reported, his past statements on both programs are not comforting.  Pending legislation on Capitol Hill could cut Social Security benefits by 1/3, raise the retirement age, and decrease COLAs.  If Paul Ryan gets his way, Medicare will be turned into “Coupon Care” and seniors will be given vouchers to fend for themselves in the private insurance market.  Thirty million Americans could lose health insurance (including a disproportionate number in areas that Trump won in November) if the Affordable Care Act is repealed (not to mention the lost improvements to Medicare included in the ACA).  Americans who depend on any of these programs could sink into poverty.

Working Americans, the disabled, seniors, and their families should know what’s at stake – and they must participate in the movement to stop Republicans from snatching away their earned benefits and health care.  The National Committee will vigorously lobby members of Congress, gather millions of petition signatures, and encourage working Americans to contact their elected representatives about these critical issues.  We will partner with our allies to promote an agenda that protects – and boosts – our earned benefits instead of slashing them.  So, by all means enjoy the holidays and ring in a peaceful New Year.  Then… let’s shift gears into battle mode and stop the war on the working class together.

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