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From the category archives: Aging Issues

Social Security Should Change New Cell Phone Security Rule

As we first reported last week, new federal online security rules have led the Social Security Administration to require all new and current account holders to SSA’s online portal,  my Social Security, to have a text-enabled cell phone to access their account online. 

Since only a quarter (27%) of adults ages 65 and older own smartphones this new rule is baffling.  NCPSSM President/CEO, Max Richtman, has urged Social Security’s Acting Commission, Carolyn Colvin, to change the new requirement:

We are concerned that the new authentication requirements will mean that millions of Americans will find themselves cut off from this convenient avenue of service delivery. That’s why we urge you to move quickly to protect seniors by expanding your authentication procedures to include options that can be used by those who do not have text-capable cell phones. One option would be to send an authentication code to mySocialSecurity account holders via email. Such an expansion would go a long way in ensuring that seniors will continue to be able to access their accounts.

We understand the dilemma SSA confronts in making individuals’ personally-identifiable information available to them through an online service portal such as mySocialSecurity.

“Too little security can compromise the privacy of millions of Americans. Authentication procedures that are overly-rigorous or that offer too few options can close off an important avenue of service delivery and lead to increased phone and walk-in traffic in local Social Security offices. We urge you to review the new authentication procedures with the goal of striking the right balance between access and security. Establishing an authentication option based on email or a person’s landline telephone would significantly increase the number of account holders who would continue to have access to the services that mySocialSecurity so admirably provides.”

You can read our entire letter here


Will America's Seniors Vote Against Their Own Self-Interests...Again?

Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEOby Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO

As a seniors’ advocate who’s worked on aging policy issues for decades, one of the most common questions I hear during campaign season is, “Why do America’s seniors vote against their own economic self-interests?” or more specifically, “Why have so many older (65+) Americans shifted to the Republican Party, even as it supports cutting the Social Security and Medicare benefits they depend on?” There is no single answer to this political quandary because there is far more at work in our fractured, divisive and polarized political system than simply age demographics. However, there’s no denying we could see American seniors vote against their own self-interests, once again in 2016, unless there’s a major awakening to what that vote means for them economically.

It’s important to start with some historical context. Democratic Presidents, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson, created Social Security and Medicare and -- for decades -- the party’s strong support among seniors and the middle-class reflected that reality. However, that was then. The erosion of senior support for Democratic candidates has been steady.  In 1993, Democrats had a 12 point advantage over Republicans among senior voters.  Today, that advantage is gone and is instead a deficit.

While the GOP claims this shift proves cutting earned benefits is no longer the “third rail” of American politics, the increasingly populist tone of this 2016 Presidential campaign combined with the nomination of a GOP Presidential candidate who’s promised no cuts certainly belies that assertion. In truth what’s happened in recent years is that conservatives have successfully co-opted the Social Security and Medicare political debate by promising Americans they’ll “preserve” and “strengthen” these vital programs on the campaign trail, while actually proposing benefit cuts, Social Security private accounts, or coupon care for seniors in Medicare only after they’re elected. This Orwellian doublespeak isn’t accidental but a well-crafted (and apparently effective) messaging strategy. Donald Trump has now taken that messaging a step further by promising he’ll leave Social Security and Medicare alone, even as he surrounds himself with staff and a Vice Presidential running mate with very different plans. Trump himself supported the privatization of Social Security for more than a decade, calling it a “Ponzi scheme,” but by 2013 he’d done the political calculus and warned conservatives they simply couldn’t win elections that way:

“ ‘As Republicans, if you think you are going to change very substantially for the worse Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security in any substantial way, and at the same time you think you are going to win elections, it just really is not going to happen,’ Mr. Trump said, adding that polls show that tea partyers are among those who don't want their entitlements changed."  Donald Trump, 2013 CPAC speech, Washington Times

You know the Republicans also have to get elected, you do know that. And if you watch Bernie, and if you watch Hillary, they don't only want to not cut, they want to increase Social Security.” Donald Trump, Morning Joe, February 2016

The American people, of all ages and political parties understand we don’t have to destroy Social Security and Medicare to “save” them. The latest survey by the National Academy of Social Insurance shows large majorities of Americans, both Republicans and Democrats, agree on ways to strengthen Social Security, without cutting benefits. 74 percent of Republicans and 88 percent of Democrats agree that “it is critical to preserve Social Security even if it means increasing Social Security taxes paid by working Americans.”  Simply put, the American people are willing to pay more for Social Security.  They understand the growing impact these benefits have on individual lives and on our larger economy.  They know first-hand what America’s retirement crisis looks and feels like.

Retirement USA reports the gap between what Americans need to retire and what they actually have is $7.7 trillion. In fact, about half of households age 55 and older have no retirement savings and a third of current workers aged 55 to 64 are likely to be poor or near-poor in retirement. Unfortunately, the median retirement account balance is a puny $3,000 for all working-age households and $12,000 for near-retirement households. Vanguard reports that 401K balances, for those who do have them, fell a median of 11% last year.  Social Security remains the only stable retirement income for many Americans.

Social Security is also a stabilizing force for the economy.  A new report from the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare Foundation shows that, in 2014 alone, Social Security delivered a $1.6 trillion fiscal boost nationwide as benefits were spent and cycled through the economy.  Unfortunately, Social Security’s economic contributions to communities, counties, and states continue to be misunderstood and often ignored in Washington’s fiscal debates. This election could change that.

The party that created Social Security and Medicare has an opportunity to regain lost ground by drawing a clear line in the sand in defense of the core American values of hard work, fairness and compassion embodied in our nation’s most successful programs – Social Security and Medicare. The Democrat’s 2016 platform is the strongest statement on strengthening Social Security seen in decades.  By pledging to fight efforts to “cut, privatize or weaken” Social Security, supporting expansion of the program, lifting the payroll tax and exploring a new COLA formula for seniors, the Democrats have tackled head-on the critical challenges facing millions of average Americans. Conversely, the Republican 2016 platform says benefit cuts must be considered, raising revenue rejected and privatization (the “power of the markets”) preferred. It’s no wonder Donald Trump has been running noticeably silent on Social Security and Medicare this summer, given the Republican Party’s clear rejection of his Social Security and Medicare campaign promises.

Senior turnout will play a huge role in November’s elections which means Democrats must continue to say what they mean, and mean what they say in a full-throated defense against attacks to America’s most effective health and retirement security programs.  Senior voters must also remain vigilant and demand more from candidates than empty promises and political double-speak, otherwise they may cast yet another vote against their own economic self-interests and end up with the biggest case of buyers’ remorse in American political history. 

New Federal Privacy Rules Pose a Challenge for Some Seniors in Social Security

All new and current account holders to Social Security’s online portal,  my Social Security, will now be required to have a text-enabled cell phone to access their account online. The Social Security Administration says:

“People will not be able to access their personal my Social Security account if they do not have a cell phone or do not wish to provide the cell phone number. We understand the inconvenience the text message solution may cause for some of our customers. We recognize that not every my Social Security account holder may have a cell phone, have consistent cell service in a rural area, or be able to receive a text message.”

In fact, a Pew Research Center report shows a small minority of adults ages 65 and older own smartphones.

“Overall, older Americans are less likely to be online, have broadband at home or own a mobile device. The same applies to smartphones: Only a quarter (27%) of adults ages 65 and older own them.”

Leading many to wonder:

“Certainly, cybersecurity is important and more so for Social Security numbers that can be used for identity theft. But there MUST be a better way than locking out the majority of people the agency exists to serve.”...Time Goes By blog

This change was prompted by a new executive order requiring all federal agencies that provide online access to consumers’ personal information to use something called multi-factor authentication; this means that to login to a site, account holders need to enter more than one credential — in this case a username/password and a text code — in order to verify their identity. The new system has already encountered snags. Verizon customers complained that they could not get the cellphone security code. The SSA now says it has fixed the problem; however,

“Due to high volume of traffic to our website, you may experience problems receiving your security code via text message or entering the security code you receive. The problem preventing all Verizon wireless customers from receiving the cell phone security code has been fixed. Please check back in a few days.”

SSA’s use of technology to reach a growing number of retirees, particularly baby boomers who have been increasing their online/cell usage, makes sense.  However, the agency’s backup for those beneficiaries who can’t access their online accounts without a cell phone are its call centers, which Congress continues to underfund:

“When the teleservice centers are adequately funded and staffed, SSA’s 800 number performs well.  However, starting in 2011, budget cuts forced SSA to freeze hiring, and the teleservice centers lost many agents through attrition.  In just three years, SSA lost more than 15 percent of its 800 number staff. Wait times and busy rates spiked. In 2014, wait times peaked at over 22 minutes and busy rates at 13 percent.  After a small funding increase in 2014 enabled SSA to replace some of the agents lost during the hiring freeze, service began to rebound — though it remains well below previous levels.”...Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Surely, there must be a better way to improve security and provide convenient access to online Social Security accounts without shifting so many seniors without cell phones back to currently underfunded teleservice centers and district offices which Congress, so far, seems unwilling to fund at levels needed to serve the retiring baby boom generation. 

Two Party Platforms –Two Starkly Different Views on Social Security

The Democratic Platform released today clearly shows that the differences between how the Democratic and Republican parties will approach the future of Social Security couldn’t be starker. The GOP platform promises to consider all benefit cut options, refuses to lift the payroll tax cap and suggests sending Americans’ earned benefits to Wall Street through privatization. The Democratic Party platform, on the other hand, offers the strongest statement on strengthening Social Security seen in decades.  By pledging to fight efforts to “cut, privatize or weaken” Social Security, supporting expansion of the program, lifting the payroll tax and exploring a new COLA formula for seniors, the Democrats have tackled head-on the critical challenges facing millions of average Americans. 

“For too long, many in Washington have ignored the retirement crisis facing Americans nationwide.  The Democratic Party’s platform acknowledges what average Americans and their families understand first-hand – Social Security is an economic lifeline to millions which should be improved. Boosting Social Security’s benefits to provide economic security while also extending the program’s solvency can be done at the same time.  The Democrats get that.

The National Committee proudly worked closely with the Democratic Platform Committee and DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz to ensure efforts to improve the current cost of living allowance (COLA) formula are investigated.  The current formula isn’t measuring seniors’ expenses properly and they’ve seen no increase for too many years, while their expenses (especially health costs) continue to grow.  We need a COLA for the elderly and are happy to see Democrats address that reality in this 2016 platform.”...Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO and Democratic Platform Committee Member

It’s also very telling that while the GOP buried their cuts and privatization plans for Social Security under the Platform’s Government Reform heading, the Democrats addressed Social Security, as they should, as part of their plan to restore economic security for average Americans. That’s been Social Security’s fundamental role for more than 80 years -- providing an economic lifeline impacting the lives of virtually every American family.

A new National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare Foundation report also released today, called Social Security Spotlight, illustrates very clearly the huge economic impact Social Security benefits have in every state and county throughout the nation.  This research can be especially helpful during the 2016 election cycle for voters, journalists, policy makers and campaign staff as the future of Social Security is debated.


Mike Pence’s Long History Attacking Social Security & Medicare

GOP Presidential candidate, Donald Trump, has chosen one of Congress’ most aggressive Social Security privatization supporters to serve as his Vice President. Indiana Governor and former Congressman, Mike Pence’s record on issues important to seniors, particularly cutting benefits to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid couldn’t be worse:

“By choosing Governor Mike Pence as his running mate, presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump has sent a very clear message to America’s seniors that their priorities will hold little weight in a Trump administration.  During his decade-plus tenure in the U.S. Congress, Mike Pence consistently voted in favor of legislative efforts to cut benefits in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. He has a long history of blaming earned benefit programs for America’s economic woes and supporting middle-class benefit cuts to protect tax cuts for the wealthy. Few members of Congress have an anti-seniors voting record as consistently strong as Mike Pence. 

Mike Pence was one of Congress’ biggest proponents of privatization. He supports cutting Social Security benefits by raising the retirement age, reducing the COLA, means-testing and turning Medicare into “CouponCare.” As he told CNN, ‘I’m an all of the above guy.  I think we need to look at everything that’s on the menu,’ and the record shows he has done just that by supporting every form of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefit cut proposed in the past decade. 

The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare scored Mike Pence at 0% on issues important to seniors during the 2011-2012 Congress since he voted for multiple pieces of legislation that would cut benefits and programs that protect senior’s health and financial security.”...Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO

As leader of the Republican Study Committee, the House’s far-right wing caucus, during the Bush administration, Pence doubled-down on President George Bush’s failed privatization efforts by calling for an even larger private accounts scheme to be implemented sooner, putting Americans at even greater fiscal risk than the President’s doomed plan. The Washington Times reported in 2005:

“The Bush plan allows workers to divert 4 percent of their wages into investment accounts, and to choose from a set of investment strategies. But the conservatives are leaning more toward a plan sponsored by Rep. Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, which would allow diversion of 6 percent of wages.

‘Conservatives want to see personal retirement accounts that have immediate relevance to younger Americans, that they can see the value, and that will require that they be big and that they be implemented in the final bill without delay,’ said Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana Republican and chairman of the 100-member Republican Study Committee (RSC).”

Incredibly, even though Pence was among Congress’ most vocal fiscal hawks, he was willing to use deficit spending to pay for their Social Security privatization scheme but not to improve Social Security’s long-term funding or protect seniors’ benefits:  

“Mr. Pence said conservatives would be willing to accept borrowing money to pay for the transition costs, but “so long as we can achieve the fundamental reform of personal Social Security account for retirement.” He said the RSC will convey those principles to House Republican leaders early next week, and said they believe they have muscle to back up those principles.”

Beyond privatization, Pence’s comments make it clear there isn’t a Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid benefit cut he won’t embrace:

“I think everything has to be on the table...I think it’s absolutely imperative, whether it’s Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid.”

“With regard to entitlements we’re going to have to take some deep cuts in domestic spending.” CNN, 2010

“I was tea party before it was cool.”  Indianapolis Monthly, 2011

On health issues, Pence’s record is just as anti-senior as his Social Security stance. He aggressively opposed the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and fought for its repeal, which would worsen Medicare’s solvency and take away billions in added benefits and cost savings for seniors.  He voted against the creation of a prescription drug benefit (Part D) in Medicare, opposes allowing the re-importation of prescription drugs and allowing Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices, he supported legislation that would deny non-emergency treatment for lack of a Medicare co-pay, and most importantly supports the GOP/Ryan budget which would destroy Medicare in favor of “Couponcare,” giving seniors a voucher to take shopping for insurance rather than protecting traditional Medicare’s guaranteed coverage.

In spite of his leadership in Congress against the ACA, as Governor he reluctantly acknowledged the healthcare needs of Indiana citizens and adopted Medicaid expansion, yet not without putting the GOP political spin on it.  As Politico reported, Pence incredibly claims the expansion was actually an elimination of Medicaid.

“In fact, a summary of the proposal describes it as a move to “eliminate traditional Medicaid” for non-disabled Hoosiers.

And by adding a requirement that Indiana residents must pay a premium, Pence promised to preserve citizens’ dignity:

“So the Indiana plan will charge small premiums—up to 2 percent of an individual's income—which will make only a tiny impact on the state's balance sheets, but will send a clear message to those layabouts; Pence talked about giving people the "dignity to pay for their own health insurance." (I'm sure that Pence declines to take a government handout in the form of the mortgage interest deduction, because that would undermine his dignity.)...American Prospect

While Donald Trump has promised on the campaign trail that he won’t cut Social Security and Medicare benefits, he continues to surround himself with advisors and now a running-mate with polar opposite intentions.  At the same time, his promise to “not touch” benefits has been noticeably absent in recent campaign appearances.  In fact, his most recent comments to an AARP survey take a very different tone:

“As our demography changes, a prudent administration would begin to examine what changes might be necessary for future generations.”...Donald Trump, AARP, June 27, 2016

That’s why NCPSSM President/CEO, Max Richtman, urges seniors and their families to beware of candidates who make promises on the campaign trail they have no intention of keeping once they get your vote:

"They say actions speak louder than words – and there’s no doubt about it -- Donald Trump’s choice of Mike Pence as his Vice-Presidential running mate speaks volumes to American seniors.”

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