The majority in the House of Representatives just betrayed working Americans by passing reckless banking legislation known as the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act (S 2155). The only accurate part of the title is “regulatory relief,” in that it rolls back crucial regulations on the banking industry enacted after the 2008 financial crisis. It likely will provide little to no economic growth, and it does not protect consumers by any means. In fact, the bill will hurt consumers – especially working Americans saving for retirement.
The new legislation just passed by the House deregulates 25 of the largest 38 banks in the United States. This is a reversal of the 2010 Dodd-Frank law that sought to safeguard the public against the kind of bank failures which triggered the Great Recession. As Americans for Financial Reform said in a recent letter to Congress:
“The deregulatory provisions in the bill would be actively harmful to consumers and increase the instability of the financial system. The consumer measures included in the bill are often flawed and do not come close to counterbalancing the impacts of weakening or eliminating important regulatory protections in areas ranging from mortgage lending to the oversight of large banks.” – Americans for Financial Reform, 5/18/18
American workers lost trillions of dollars in retirement savings (including more than $2 trillion invested in 401K’s) in the wake of the ’08 financial meltdown. Normal market volatility is one thing. But crashes like we experienced ten years ago can permanently rob retirees of their life savings:
“For workers in their 50s or 60s and approaching retirement such losses can be devastating and difficult to recover from — unless those older workers are willing to defer retirement for another five years to 10 years to make up for what they lost in the market.” – National Committee president Max Richtman, CNBC, 3/16/18
All of this begs the question: how can we ask workers to be responsible and save when the government strips away protections intended to keep our savings secure? For most working and middle class Americans, it is already challenging to set aside enough money for retirement – thanks to stagnant wages, growing income inequality, and longer life expectancies. With actions like Congress took Tuesday, workers have scant assurance that whatever they can squirrel away for retirement will be there when they need it. In fact, last March the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) determined that the deregulation bill would make another financial crisis more likely.
Of course, there is one thing that Americans count on for basic financial security in retirement no matter what: Social Security. For 83 years, Social Security has been a safeguard for seniors with little or no savings who might otherwise slide into poverty. But the same fiscal conservatives in a hurry to deregulate the banking industry are also gunning for Social Security under the guise of “entitlement reform.” This is code for cutting benefits and raising the retirement age (which is itself a benefit cut). As soon as the Trump/GOP tax scheme passed in December, Speaker Ryan and other budget hawks signaled they would come after retirement benefits in order to pay for it.
Seniors and their advocates can’t let that happen – especially at a time when we cannot trust Congress to protect the interests of working people over those of the big banks. Retirees’ Social Security benefits must be preserved because, at least for now, they are the only thing workers can depend on after the next financial crash.
It only took President Trump a scant 16 months to nominate someone to head the Social Security Administration (SSA), which oversees the Social Security program and Supplemental Security Income for some 67 million Americans. Trump’s nominee, Andrew M. Saul, is a New York businessman, Republican donor, and former chairman of the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, which administers the retirement plan for U.S. government employees.
The Social Security Administration has run without a confirmed, full-fledged director for the past five years. The Republican-led Senate refused to confirm President Obama’s nominee, who departed as acting commissioner after the Trump administration took office. President Trump dragged his feet making a nomination, leaving acting chief Nancy Berryhill to lead an agency struggling to provide customer service in the wake of draconian budget cuts.
Appearing before the House Social Security subcommittee in March, National Committee president Max Richtman said that SSA needed “strong leadership” to achieve its mission, and that a new commissioner should be nominated and confirmed. Now that President Trump has finally selected someone, what do we really know about him?
Though he served on the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board for nine years, Andrew Saul has no real public record – good or bad – when it comes to Social Security. But his alignment with Republican politics (he was a top fundraiser for George W. Bush, who famously tried to privatize Social Security) and his membership on the board of a right-wing think tank, The Manhattan Institute, is not encouraging.
We need look no further than the Manhattan Institute’s website to glean the organization’s position on Social Security. In an article entitled, The Social Security Façade, the Institute propagates rightist myths that the program is going bankrupt and will no longer be able to pay benefits when today’s young people retire. In other words, it employs the time-worn tactic of dividing the generations to undermine Social Security:
“Young Americans are stuck paying into programs that, absent reform, will only partially be there for their retirements – if they’re around at all.” – Manhattan Institute website
The Institute believes that current Social Security benefits “are simply too generous,” and goes on to spread another falsehood:
“These entitlement programs function not only as wealth transfers from the young to the old, but from the poor to the wealthy… today’s seniors have an average of 47 times the wealth of households headed by adults under the age of 35.” – Manhattan Institute website
To link Mr. Saul to the Manhattan Institute’s viewpoint is not ‘guilt by association.’ It’s perfectly fair to connect him with the right-wing agenda of the think tank whose board he served on for several years, especially absent a public record of his own views on Social Security.
All of this leads us to question whether this is the man that millions of seniors, disabled, survivors, and SSI beneficiaries – many struggling to keep their heads above water financially – want to rely on to administer their benefits. During his confirmation hearings (expected to take place in June), Senate committee members should press Saul on these crucial questions:
- Does he believe in the Social Security program that has worked so well for 83 years – or would he seek to undermine it by advocating privatization?
- Can he empathize with beneficiaries living on an average monthly benefit below $1,400 per month?
- Will he encourage Congress to continue restoring badly needed funding for the Social Security Administration?
- Would he support further closings of Social Security field offices?
- How would he improve SSA’s beleaguered customer service at a time when 10,000 Baby Boomers reach retirement age every day?
Saul’s answers should fill in some important blanks, and clarify the more troubling aspects of his background. We have seen the damage Trump’s more ideological nominees can do as head of EPA, the Department of Education, and the Department of the Interior, among others. Let’s make sure not to install one as commissioner of Social Security.
The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare joined the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) and other advocates Thursday to protest the scheduled closing of the Social Security Administration field office in Arlington, VA. The Social Security Administration plans to close the office on June 21, 2018.
Protesters gathered in 90-degree heat in front of the high-rise office building at 1401 Wilson Boulevard with signs reading “Keep SSA open,” and chanting “Social Security is our fight! Social Security is our right!” The rally was covered by print and broadcast news, featuring interviews with National Committee president Max Richtman and members of NCPSSM’s Capital Action Team (CAT) volunteers.
“Closing Social Security field offices like the one here in Arlington causes undue difficulty for elderly and working-class claimants who rely on public transportation to get here. If the office is shuttered as planned in June, these individuals will have to travel nearly two hours round-trip on Metro and Metrobus to the nearest Virginia office in Alexandria. This is unacceptable.” – Max Richtman, NCPSSM president
The scheduled 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.
One of the reasons SSA plans to close the office in Arlington is related to the alleged inability of another government agency, the General Services Administration (GSA), to find acceptable real estate in the area.
“We’ve heard this same excuse offered as the reason offices in other cities had to be closed. If GSA, which is the federal government’s real estate agent, can’t find acceptable space for a Social Security office in an area with a 20 percent vacancy rate, then perhaps they should go into a different line of work. Instead of GSA, SSA should be given authority to serve as its own real estate agent.“ – Max Richtman, NCPSSM president
Max Richtman writes about the issue in today’s edition of the Hill newspaper.
According to Witold Skwierczynski of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), which represents Social Security field office workers, SSA is closing offices without following its own stated procedures, which include:
*Giving Congress and the public notice of a potential closing
*Analyzing the effect of such closings on transportation to the nearest office
*Analyzing the impact on SSA employees
So far, SSA has done none of this. In fact, SSA’s Inspector General is currently investigating the agency’s apparent breach of procedure. What’s more, Congress instructed SSA not to close any field offices until the Inspector General’s office completes its inquiry. By continuing to close field offices, Skwierczynski argues that SSA is not following guidelines it received from Congress – as well as its own policies.
Earlier this week, Max Richtman sent a letter to The Senate Committee on Aging demanding oversight of SSA office closures.
Congress slashed SSA’s operating budget by 11% (adjusted for inflation) from 2010-2017. The 2018 Omnibus Appropriations Act finally gave SSA a funding increase over 2017 levels. Of the $480 million dollar boost, only some $200 million was allocated for direct public service. The Social Security Administration will need even more funding in FY 2019 in order to keep offices open and improve customer service.
The administration of Social Security should not be a target of budget cuts, because it’s funded from payroll contributions by working Americans. It is only right that Congress fully fund SSA operations. The American people deserve the customer service they have already paid for. That means adequate resources for SSA to do its job, and no more field office closings.
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.
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.