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2604, 2018

Closing Urban Social Security Offices Will Cause Undue Hardship

By |April 26th, 2018|Social Security, Social Security Administration (SSA)|

The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare strongly objects to the scheduled closure of the Social Security Administration (SSA) field office in Arlington, VA, which currently serves some 25,000 seniors, people with disabilities, and many other beneficiaries every year.  If the office is shuttered as planned on June 21st, lower income Social Security and SSI (Supplemental Security Income) claimants may find themselves traveling up to two hours round-trip on public transportation to an alternate field office.  Once they arrive at the nearest alternative location, they will experience an average two-hour wait (based on national data) in a crowded office where it can be difficult to locate a seat – an extra hardship for seniors and people with disabilities.

Closing Social Security field offices like the one in Arlington causes undue difficulty for elderly and working class claimants who rely on public transportation,” says National Committee president and CEO Max Richtman.  “This is a consequence of Congressional underfunding of the Social Security Administration from 2010-2017, when Congress finally increased rather than cut SSA’s operating budget.  Despite the recent funding boost, SSA continues to close field offices, primarily in urban neighborhoods.”

The closure of the Arlington office comes on the heels of others in heavily populated urban areas, including in Milwaukee and Chicago during the past year, and the announced closing of an SSA field office in the Hampden neighborhood of Baltimore (also effective this June).  Since 2000, SSA has closed nearly 125 field offices nationwide.  At the same time, thanks to budget cuts, the agency has been struggling to provide adequate customer service – with claimants experiencing long waits in crowded field offices, busy signals and interminable hold times on the 800 phone line, and average delays of nearly two years for a Social Security disability hearing.  With 10,000 Baby Boomers reaching age 65 every day, SSA has been strained beyond its limits.

We view the availability of conveniently located and adequately staffed Social Security field offices as crucial to maintaining public support for Social Security itself,” says Richtman.  “If the public perceives their Social Security offices are being closed and service diminishing, their support for Social Security could deteriorate.  Claimants must be able to access well-staffed Social Security field offices without traveling long distances or spending an undue amount of waiting time collecting their earned benefits.”

Richtman has just sent a letter on behalf of the National Committee to Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Bob Casey (D-PA), the chair and ranking Democrat of the Senate Committee on Aging, imploring them to look into the recent field office closures.

As a former staff director of the Aging Committee, I know full well how effective the committee has been in overseeing federal agencies and programs and in identifying problems affecting older people and finding solutions.  Therefore, we ask that the Special Committee on Aging hold hearings that focus on the need for high-quality service from SSA and the vital importance of a strong and vibrant network of local field offices. – Max Richtman’s letter to Sens. Collins and Casey, 4/26/18

Read the full letter here.

2504, 2018

Leslie Cockburn is the Right Choice for Working Virginians in District 5

By |April 25th, 2018|Election 2018|

The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare has enthusiastically endorsed Leslie Cockburn for Congress representing Virginia’s 5th district.  Cockburn, a filmmaker, journalist, and advocate for social change is running in the May Democratic primary for the opportunity to challenge incumbent Republican Tom Garrett.

“Leslie Cockburn is the right candidate for a district with a large senior population. She has committed herself to defending Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act. Leslie recognizes that working Virginians have a right to their earned benefits when they retire, including the 181,000 District 5 residents collecting Social Security and the 134,000 Medicare beneficiaries.  She knows the just path lies in protecting and expanding benefits, not cutting them,” – National Committee president and CEO Max Richtman.

Cockburn has taken Tom Garrett and his fellow Republicans to task for trying to undermine and slash programs that Virginia’s working families depend on.  She blasts “corporate lobbyists and their allies in the White House and Capitol Hill for doing everything in their power to gut Medicaid… defund Social Security and Medicare… and cut billions in disability payments.”  She calls these proposals “extreme and callous actions that will tear apart the fabric of our community”

Rep. Garrett’s positions could not be more different from Leslie Cockburn’s – or more wrongheaded. When it comes to Social Security, he plays the ‘generational card,’ insisting that the government “not break promises” to today’s seniors, but shred that guarantee for future retirees.

“It’s time for the people of District 5 to have a representative in Washington who will fight on their behalf instead of for corporate lobbyists, insurance companies, and Wall Street.  Leslie Cockburn is that candidate,” says Richtman. “Let’s help send Tom Garrett home and put Leslie Cockburn in the U.S. Congress.” – Max Richtman

Read the National Committee’s endorsement letter here.

2304, 2018

Delivering Meals on Wheels With Dad Deepened My Appreciation for the Program

By |April 23rd, 2018|Max Richtman, Meals on Wheels, Mick Mulvaney, Older Americans Act|

The author’s father, Cliff Adcock (R), readies to deliver Meals on Wheels to seniors in Escondido, CA 

By Dan Adcock

At a press conference last year, President Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, infamously declared, “Meals on Wheels sounds great, [but] we’re not going to spend [money] on programs that cannot show that they actually deliver the promises that we’ve made to people.”  Not surprisingly, the first two budget proposals Mulvaney crafted for the president would have eliminated the block grants that help to pay for Meals on Wheels.

Apparently, Mulvaney has had no personal experience with delivering meals to seniors who are unable to shop or cook safely.  Shortly after Mulvaney made his ill-informed statement, my boss, National Committee president Max Richtman, suggested that President Trump “ride with a Meals on Wheels van and witness the profound benefits to our nation’s most vulnerable seniors.”

I can proudly say that I have done something the President and his budget director clearly have not.  This month, I rode along with my father, Cliff Adcock, on his route as a Meals on Wheels volunteer in Escondido, California.  As a public policy wonk, I have always appreciated the Meals on Wheels program – first as a Congressional staffer on a committee that oversaw the Older Americans Act (which includes Meals on Wheels), then, as an advocate for seniors during the past 24 years.  In 1992, I helped write the reauthorization of the Older Americans Act, which at the time enjoyed broad, bipartisan support.  My recent ride-along taught me that understanding policy is one thing – but on-the-ground experience with the program is altogether different.

My dad (a longtime Republican) started driving for San Diego Meals on Wheels last year. He says he was inspired to sign up by my mother, Eleanor, volunteering at a local hospital. I rode along with Dad on his 38-mile route during a holiday visit in December – and more recently a few weeks ago while traveling on business. I loved both experiences because the seniors who answered my dad’s knock on their doors greeted us with huge smiles and ample gratitude – not only for bringing them lunch and/or dinner – but also for what may have been their only social interaction all day.

During the journey in my dad’s 2017 Toyota Prius, I learned that delivering meals to seniors – many of whom are shut-ins – is not always easy.  While some live in the city of Escondido – others have homes in rural areas several miles outside of town.  Access is also complicated by recipients’ various disabilities.  In one rural trailer park, we delivered to a senior who is nearly deaf and unable to answer the door no matter how my times you knock or ring. We had to access a key from a lockbox in order to let ourselves inside and deliver her meals.  My Dad and I didn’t encounter her in December but got to say hello when we made our delivery this Spring.  She was very happy to see us.

Next, we were off to deliver meals to another house in an even more remote area.  The recipient was a pleasant woman with a German accent. I told her that I spoke a bit of German and used my limited vocabulary to have a short conversation in her native language.  She seemed tickled that I made the effort and thanked us for the meals.

Our last stop was a delivery to a Korean War veteran suffering from dementia.  (My dad is a Korea veteran, too).  Sometimes he arrives behind schedule at the vet’s house due to late additions to his itinerary.  If the meal comes after lunchtime, the vet becomes irritable. Fortunately, we were on time when I rode along, and found the man in good spirits.  His adult daughter was visiting that day and thanked us for bringing her father’s lunch.

At the end of our two-and-a-half hour run, we returned the food containers to the seniors center.  I thanked my dad for letting me accompany him on his route.  The ride-along re-affirmed my belief in a program that I had experienced as an advocate and policymaker, but never up close and in person. Seeing the seniors’ joy and gratitude for the sustenance and social contact we provided enhanced my appreciation of Meals on Wheels tenfold.

I wish every member of Congress, the President, and Mick Mulvaney would ride-along with the Meals on Wheels van before considering cutting a single penny from the program.  Who knows?  A hug from a grateful senior might just melt their hearts – or at least compel them to put away the budget axes they’ve been sharpening.  In fact, if they’re ever in Southern California and would like to accompany my dad on his route, I’d be happy to arrange it. 

Dan Adcock is Director of Government Policy and Research at the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.

1904, 2018

Chatting with Rep. Joe Kennedy, Eloquent Advocate for Working Americans

By |April 19th, 2018|Congress, Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, Tax Cuts|

Anyone who has the opportunity to chat with Rep. Joe Kennedy III about Americans’ health and retirement security should jump at the chance.  This week, we had the honor of interviewing him on Facebook Live from his office on Capitol Hill.

Now in his third term representing Massachusetts’ 4th Congressional district, Rep. Kennedy is much more than a member of one America’s most famous political families. (He is grandson of Ethel and Robert Kennedy, and grand-nephew of President John F. Kennedy).

He is a thoughtful, persuasive policy expert on health care, and a champion of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.  He sits on the powerful House Energy & Commerce Committee – which has jurisdiction over federal healthcare programs, mental health, the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Interviewed by National Committee president and CEO Max Richtman, Rep. Kennedy affirmed his reputation as an eloquent advocate for America’s current and future retirees.

MEDICAID

Rep. Kennedy wants to see greater access to Medicaid services, and higher reimbursements for doctors and other providers who currently don’t find it worthwhile to participate. He excoriates Republicans for demonstrating an “extraordinary level of cynicism” in trying to gut Medicaid by repealing Obamacare.  After numerous GOP efforts to undermine Medicaid since President Trump took office, Rep. Kennedy insists the program is more popular than ever.

“The Republicans did something that Democrats have been trying to do for a long time, but couldn’t. They have made Medicaid popular. We’ve actually seen far more Americans understand the integrity, the importance of what Medicaid actually does, and how it forms a backbone of our health care infrastructure across the country.”

TRUMP/GOP TAX LAW

The Congressman is intensely critical of the tax law enacted by Republicans and signed by the President last December, which showers the wealthy and big corporations with tax breaks while blowing a $1.5 trillion hole in the federal debt.  Rep. Kennedy believes the gaping deficit caused by the tax law will invite deep cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

“This bill is going to bankrupt the United States of America.  With the GOP leadership racking up deficits, those of us who care about the stability of these programs are going to have to do something to make sure that they are there for families when they need them.” 

“[The Republicans’] long-term goal has always been to gut… these programs.  We need to make sure American families understand:  1) How important these programs are; 2) What they actually do.”

SOCIAL SECURITY

The pending retirement of Speaker Paul Ryan notwithstanding, Rep. Kennedy remains concerned that the political right will continue to try to undermine Social Security and Medicare – by privatizing, cutting, and raising eligibility ages – even after Ryan departs the Hill.  He argues that now is the time for awareness and vigilance to protect Americans’ earned benefits.

“No one gets rich off of Social Security. It’s something that you pay into your entire life to make sure that you can afford the basic necessities in retirement.  That’s not something that should be targeted.  That’s something that should be expanded so that we are preserving economic dignity for seniors in the golden years of life.”

“The education part of it is a critical first step:  making sure American families understand just how important these programs are.  They have paid into them during the course of their working lives and they should be able to depend on them as a foundation on which they can build their retirement.”  

Watch Rep. Kennedy’s entire conversation with Max Richtman on Facebook Live here.

1304, 2018

Seniors Dodge Devastation of Balanced Budget Amendment

By |April 13th, 2018|Budget, Congress|

The Balanced Budget Amendment introduced by House Republicans went down to defeat Thursday night by a vote of 233-184, falling fall short of the 2/3 majority required to advance the measure to the Senate.  The amendment’s demise was a relief for our nation’s seniors, because it threatened the earned benefits they have contributed to during their entire working lives.  Seniors and their advocates can rightly take credit for the Balanced Budget Amendment’s defeat.  The National Committee sent a letter to Congress on April 10th urging members to reject this ill-considered, dangerous change to our nation’s Constitution.

National Committee president and CEO Max Richtman issued the following statement in response to last night’s vote

“Social Security and Medicare were spared a terrible fate when House leadership was unable to pressure 2/3 of their colleagues to vote for a Balanced Budget Amendment (BBA) to the U.S. Constitution.  The BBA would have prevented Social Security and Medicare Part A from using trust fund reserves to pay benefits for millions of Americans – including retirement, disability, and hospitalization.  The House members who voted against the BBA did the right thing today.” – Max Richtman, president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.

A balanced budget amendment would have blocked benefit payments from the Social Security and Medicare Part A trust funds since all federal expenditures, including these earned benefits, would have to be covered by revenue collected in the same year.  It also would have required draconian spending cuts, inviting Congress to slash Medicare Parts B, C and D, Medicaid, and many other social safety net programs for seniors, while opening the door to massive new tax cuts.

While the balanced budget amendment did not dictate any particular approach to deficit reduction, by altering established Congressional voting procedures it would have increased the likelihood that the fiscal policies adopted in coming decades would favor the well-off at the expense of middle- and low-income Americans. The amendment would have require a two-thirds vote of the full membership of the House and Senate to raise taxes. Spending cuts, by contrast, would continue to require only a majority of those present and voting and could be passed on a voice vote.

Adding to these problems, the amendment would have heightened the risk of a federal government default by requiring a three-fifths vote of both the House and the Senate to raise the debt limit, rather than the current simple majority. Consider the scenario where budgets thought to be balanced at the start of a fiscal year fall out of balance during the year as a result of factors such as slower-than-expected economic growth or a natural disaster. If sizable deficits emerged with only part of the year remaining, Congress and the President may have been unable to agree on a package of budget cuts resulting in Congress being unable to raise the debt limit and allow a deficit. The President may have been bound, at the point at which the “government runs out of money,” to stop issuing checks.

The political right has hauled out spurious arguments to push a balanced budget amendment for years. (The last time the GOP tried to pass one was 2011).  Among these canards:  States balance their budgets, they say.  Why can’t the federal government?  Families balance their budgets? Why not Congress?  We debunked these arguments in a recent article in this space:

While it’s true that some states have balanced budget amendments, many of those apply only to operating budgets, not capital expenditures for long-term projects.  Regardless, states do not have the sweeping responsibilities of the federal government, including national defense, federal disaster response, and Social Security or Medicare. As for families, many do strive to balance their household budgets, but still carry mortgages on their homes, auto loans, and sometimes, lines of credit.  In other words, like the federal government, states and families are leveraged to meet their vital needs. – Entitled to Know, 3/30/18

The National Committee supports responsible government budgeting. However, we oppose a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution because it would significantly harm the economy, result in a government default and force severe cuts in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other vital federal programs.