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From the category archives: Aging Issues

Cutting Social Security Disability Threatens Millions of American Families

One of Congress’ strongest champions for strengthening and boosting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid is Rep. Gwen Moore from Wisconsin.  Congresswoman Moore has also been an effective voice in Congress for measures that focus on improving the economic and employment conditions in low-income communities.  We’re so glad she’s agreed to share her views with us on the current Congress, Black History month and recent attempts to target Americans with disabilities by the GOP leadership in the House. 

 


 

Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI)

Each February, we are reminded of our country’s greatest African American leaders with the celebration of Black History Month. Black History Month provides us an opportunity not only to reflect on those who advocate on behalf of the African American community, but also to examine the critical concerns and issues facing African Americans today. Even with all of the progress made over the past half-century, African Americans still represent a disproportionate share of our nation’s poor. As we work to change the underlying causes for this reality, we must also make sure we’re providing an adequate safety net to prevent further harm of those who are already struggling to get by.

There is no program more vital to protecting those who are battling poverty than Social Security. Not only is Social Security responsible for allowing millions of Americans to enjoy a comfortable retirement after a life of hard work, but also provides insurance for more than 90% of American workers in the event of a debilitating accident or illness through the Disability Insurance program.

On the first day of the 114th Congress, House Republicans pushed through a rule change regarding the Social Security trust funds that would prevent the routine transfer of funds between the retirement and disability accounts. Without the ability to transfer funds, the Disability Trust Fund will be forced to cut all benefits by 20% in 2016. That’s 20% from a paycheck that already is not enough to keep 1.6 million people out of poverty.

A harsh truth we must come to terms with is that one out of every three young workers new to the labor force will either die or need Disability Insurance before they turn 67.  Those odds get even worse for African American workers, who make up a disproportionate percentage of Disability Insurance beneficiaries.  An unexpected disability or illness can be devastating to an individual or family, but the Disability Insurance program supplies protection to soften the blow of an immediate loss of income. While the benefits are modest, averaging around $1100 a month, they still represent the main or only source of income for over 80% of beneficiaries.  Nearly one in five beneficiaries live in poverty, which translates to roughly 1.6 million people, or approximately the population of greater metropolitan Milwaukee, my home city.

Obviously, this critical program needs more funding, but my congressional colleagues across the aisle continue to stand in the way. The rule change proposed by House Republicans was slipped under the wire as a procedural fix. But let’s call it what it is: a brazen attack on our nation’s most vulnerable. These are people who paid their dues to Social Security while they were in the labor force who are now in need of the services they paid into.

Now is not the time to weaken the Disability Insurance program, but rather we should be strengthening it. One of the major lingering effects of the recession is the sharp increase in long-term unemployment. While this number is now on the decline for the overall population, disabled workers continue to struggle to find gainful employment. Cutting what meager benefits they have now would be a death sentence.

This Black History Month, instead of only reflecting on the African Americans of the past, we should also make sure we are taking care of the African Americans of today and tomorrow. Cutting benefits to the Disability Insurance program would disproportionately affect African Americans. I believe in a vision of government where we take care of those who have fallen on hard times due to disability. Black History Month serves as a good means to highlight these issues, but I will keep fighting for this vision all year-round, day-in and day-out, until every American receives the assistance they need to live a prosperous life.

 

Celebrating Black History Month

Social Security is One Program – No Matter How Much Conservatives Try to Pit Seniors Against the Disabled

Tomorrow,  Republicans leading the House Ways and Means Social Security subcommittee will continue their campaign to try and convince Americanswhy it’s OK to threaten a 20% benefit cut for people with disabilities unless Congress enacts larger “reforms” (“reforms” actually meaning benefit cuts since conservatives have already ruled out revenue increases) from retirees, widows and survivors who depend on Social Security. 

This divide and conquer strategy ignores the fact that, once you step outside Congressional hearing rooms, average Americans understand that Social Security’s value goes far beyond just retirement.  Demonizing people with disabilities discounts the basic truth that American workers contribute throughout their working lives into one program -- Social Security.  Their contributions provide economic security for a whole host of needs from birth to death – for children who’ve lost a parent, spouses who’ve lost their “significant other” and people with disabilities no longer healthy enough to work.  Worker contributions provide all of these benefits. Cutting Social Security disability is cutting Social Security benefits, no matter how conservatives in Washington want to pretend otherwise. Targeting one group of Social Security beneficiaries is a political first step to attack the whole program.

Web Phillips is the National Committee’s Senior Legislative Representative and will testify before the committee tomorrow:  

“Our members come from all walks of life and every political persuasion.  What unites them is their passion for protecting and strengthening Social Security and Medicare, not just for themselves but for their children and grandchildren.  Our members see Social Security as an inter-generational compact that protects all members of the family.  To them, it is a single integrated system of benefits that provides family protection from birth to death.  It is a system where all of its parts, whether SSDI or retirement and survivors benefits, are equally important.

Most seniors have children and grandchildren and are as concerned for their offspring’s well-being as they are for their own.  Maybe more so.  They may have had sons and daughters who were born with a disabling condition or who became disabled later in life.  They are familiar with the disappointment and financial hardship unanticipated events cause and are grateful that Social Security is available to provide help when it is needed.  Fundamentally, they understand SSDI’s value and they support the program.”

At the heart of this issue is the GOP’s refusal to simply allow a modest and temporary reallocation of part of the 6.2 percent Social Security tax rate to the DI Trust Fund which would put the entire Social Security program on an equal footing, with all benefits payable at least until 2033. Again, Americans pay taxes to one Social Security system with the understanding their money provides disability, retirement and survivor benefits – all of them – so changing that allocation formula temporarily avoids any shortfall. In fact, Democrats and Republicans have authorized this same strategy eleven times without controversy (including four times during the Reagan administration). Extending the DI Trust Fund’s solvency to match the Retirement Trust Fund is a simple common sense step that sets the table for a more constructive long-term conversation about Social Security between now and 2033, rather than this faux crisis mentality promoted by the billion dollar anti-Social Security lobby and it’s allies on Capitol Hill. 

GOP leaders call this common-sense solution “kicking the can down the road” while they ignore the reality of what a 20% benefit cut would mean to millions of people with disabilities.  It’s a “death sentence” according to Social Security Acting Commissioner, Carolyn Colvin.  She’s right.  However, rather than address this immediate need for Social Security disability beneficiaries, as so many other Congresses have, Republican leaders continue their cynical political attack in which all Social Security beneficiaries are the hostages. 

It’s (Past) Time to Reauthorize the Older Americans Act

Chances are if you, or anyone in your family, is 65 or older your life has been impacted by an Older Americans Act program.  From Meals on Wheels to senior centers, prevention of physical and financial abuse, computer training to legal assistance, OAA programs touch the lives of millions of seniors and their families.  This myriad of programs provides home and community-based services making it possible for older adults to remain independent, but they’ve continually faced flat or shrinking budgets at a time of growing needs.  Funding programs that allow seniors to age in place is cost-effective; however, Congress has not reauthorized these programs since 2010. 

Tomorrow, legislation to reauthorize OAA will be considered by the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) committee . We’ve urged the Senate to pass this reauthorization:

“S. 192 builds on the core programs of the Older Americans Act (OAA) – including congregate and home-delivered meals, help for family caregivers, transportation and senior center services - which enable older adults to remain as independent as possible. We support provisions in S. 192 that protect against elder abuse and strengthen long-term care ombudsman services, as well as programs such as fall prevention and chronic disease self-management that promote healthy living. OAA services help seniors avoid hospitalizations and nursing home care, and, as a result, save federal and state funds that otherwise would be spent on such care. In addition to reauthorizing OAA programs, increasing OAA funding is crucial to meet the growing needs of seniors and to compensate for the lack of adequate funding over past years, a funding shortfall that was aggravated by the sequester.” 

We’ve created a video to introduce Members of Congress to the real-life impact their decisions have on average American seniors. 

 

Congress Sends Millions of Retirees a Holiday Present – An Historic Pension Cut

Tucked into the massive spending bill Congress passed this weekend was legislation that reversed 40 years of federal law protecting retirees’ pensions.  The change will allow benefit cuts for more than 1.5 million workers, many of them part of a shrinking middle-class workforce in businesses such as construction and trucking. There wasn’t a single Congressional hearing on the plan before it was slipped into the spending bill, outraging senior’s advocates...including NCPSSM.

“Allowing plans to break the fundamental ERISA promise - that pensions paid to retirees and their surviving spouses will not be reduced - represents an extreme response to a problem that can be addressed through other means by strengthening the funding of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.

Additionally, the National Committee is deeply concerned that this provision could set a dangerous precedent for other defined benefit programs, such as single employer plans, public sector plans and Social Security. We believe a change this fundamental to the retirement security of Americans should be subject to a Congressional hearing and should be considered by the appropriate committees, with legislative language reviewed by Congress and the public, particularly those who will be affected by these reductions.”  Letter to Congress -  Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO

Senate Finance Committee Chairman, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), shares our concerns as he described to the Wall Street Journal:

“Some Democrats in particular were uneasy with the solution, saying it is being rushed through Congress and could create a dangerous precedent encouraging other retiree benefit cuts.

‘This is unprecedented and I worry about the impact on retirees and the slippery slope we’re about to head down,’ said Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.), the Finance Committee chairman, in a statement. ‘I am working hard to protect retirees’ pensions, and jamming this bill through Congress virtually sight unseen is no way to solve this issue.’ “

In fact, some House Republicans see this pension cut strategy as an example of how Congress should handle Social Security in the new GOP controlled Congress.  Make no mistake about it, Congress needed to come up with a long-term solution to the multi-employer pension shortfall; however, there was no urgency plus there were other options beyond a cuts-only solution hitting current retirees with no way to prepare for a cut in their income.

“Wall Street banks, automakers and insurance giants got bailouts during the economic meltdown that started in 2008. But when it comes to the pensions of retired truck drivers, construction workers and mine workers, it seems that enough is enough.” Time.com

‘It bothers me no end that we have Congress and legislators that think that the proper way to correct problems that banks and corporations made is to take it out on the workers,’ said Dave Cook, president of Local 655 of the United Food and Commercial Workers.”  St. Louis Post Dispatch

The Pension Rights Center has a calculator on its website that lets retirees under age 75 see how much their pensions might be reduced under the bill.

 

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