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Social Security Targeted on Day One of New Congress

Members of the new 114th Congress had barely taken their oaths of office today when they passed a proposal threatening millions of Americans who receive Social Security benefits.  The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities describes the plan:

“Buried in the new rules that the House Republican majority {adopted} for the 114thCongress is a provision that could threaten Disability Insurance (DI) beneficiaries — a group of severely impaired and vulnerable Americans — with a sudden, one-fifth cut in their benefits by late 2016. The provision bars the House from replenishing the DI trust fund simply by shifting some payroll tax revenues from Social Security’s retirement trust fund.”

As NCPSSM’s Max Richtman explains, this move was pure politics:

“Today’s unprecedented House vote preventing a routine rebalancing of the Social Security Disability Trust Funds puts politics ahead of policy and partisanship ahead of people.  This House Rules change would allow a 20% benefit cut for millions of disabled Americans unless there are broader Social Security benefit cuts or tax increases improving the solvency of the combined trust funds.  It is difficult to believe that there is any purpose to this unprecedented change to House Rules other than to cut benefits for Americans who have worked hard all their lives, paid into Social Security, and rely on their Social Security benefits, including Disability, in order to survive. 

A modest and temporary reallocation of part of the 6.2 percent Social Security tax rate to the DI Trust Fund would put the entire Social Security program on an equal footing, with all benefits payable at least until 2033.  Democrats and Republicans have authorized this same strategy eleven times without controversy (including four times during the Reagan administration); however, this new House majority would rather play politics with the livelihoods of millions of Americans than solve this important funding issue.  This sends a clear message to middle-class families about the House majority’s priorities -- targeting Social Security for cuts clearly ranks high on their list.”

We’ve written before about the GOP strategy to force broad Social Security benefit cuts while simultaneously demonizing America’s disabled. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) raised the alarm about attempts to politicize what has always been a routine and non-partisan legislative solution to balance the Social Security Trust Funds:

“Reallocation has never been controversial, but detractors working to privatize Social Security will do anything to manufacture a crisis out of a routine administrative function. Modest reallocation of payroll taxes would ensure solvency of both trust funds until 2033. But if House Republicans block reallocation, insurance for disabled Americans, veterans, and children could face severe cuts once the trust fund is exhausted in 2016.”

Not only does this proposal threaten benefit cuts to people with disabilities but it also creates a false either-or scenario that pits retirees and disabled beneficiaries against each other. That’s a particularly absurd notion since the majority of disability recipients are also older, as CBPP explains:

“A reallocation would have only a tiny effect on the retirement program’s solvency. Reallocating taxes to put the two trust funds on an even footing would prolong the DI trust fund by 17 years (from 2016 to 2033), while advancing the OASI fund’s depletion by just one year (from 2034 to 2033). The reason is simple: OASI is much bigger than DI, so a modest reallocation barely dents OASI. And before then, policymakers will almost surely address Social Security solvency in a comprehensive fashion.

Most DI recipients are older people, so helping DI helps seniors. The risk of disability rises with age, and most DI beneficiaries are older. Seventy percent of disabled workers are age 50 or older, 30 percent are 60 or older, and 20 percent are 62 or older and would actually qualify as early retirees under Social Security.”

Changing the rules of the game to target Social Security in the very first hours of a new Congress sends a clear message to seniors, people with disabilities, survivors and their families – a message that certainly wasn’t shared with voters before Election Day – American families who count on Social Security in any way should beware. 

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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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NCPSSM Urges Senate to End Inequity Facing Older Women

NCPSSM Board Chair, Catherine Dodd, testified before the Senate Finance Committee today on the retirement challenges facing America's women and the National Committee's Eleanor's Hope initiative to improve Social Security benefits:

“22 million older women receive Social Security benefits yet the inequalities they face threaten their retirement security. Persistent gender wage discrimination, work gaps taken to care for loved ones, the lack of pensions and generally longer lives mean women receive a significantly lower Social Security benefit than men.  While the Social Security system is gender-neutral, life is not and America’s senior women pay the price for that inequality for as long as they live. We urge Congress to level the playing field for millions of our nation’s older women.”  Catherine Dodd, PhD, RN and NCPSSM Board Chair

Members of the Senate Finance Committee heard testimony from witnesses today in a hearing entitled, “Social Security: Is a Key Foundation of Economic Security Working for Women?”  National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare Board Chair, Catherine Dodd, urged the Senate to address the inequities that reduce the average monthly Social Security benefit for women.  In 2012 the average woman retiree received $1,103 a month while a retired man received a $1,414 monthly benefit.  The National Committee believes women deserve an adequate retirement income whether a work life is spent in the home in the paid workforce or a combination of the two.  Toward that end, our new initiative, Eleanor’s Hope -- named in honor of first lady and activist Eleanor Roosevelt -- is mobilizing women of all ages to advocate for income equality, retirement security and health protection for women.  

Some of the National Committee’s proposals for improving benefits in Social Security presented to the Senate Finance Committee today include:

·         Providing Social Security credits for caregivers

·         Improving Social Security survivor benefits

·         Equalizing Social Security’s rules for disabled widows

·         Strengthening the Social Security Cost of Living Allowance

·         Boosting the basic Social Security benefit of all current and future beneficiaries

You can see Catherine Dodd’s full Senate testimony here.

 

 

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New Video: “Eleanor’s Hope” for Social Security & Medicare

One in three women are living in or near poverty. Older women face poverty in far greater numbers than older men. The National Committee’s “Eleanor’s Hope” initiative, named in honor of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, will raise awareness, recruit and train new activists and bolster Congressional leaders who are making a difference on women’s health and retirement security issues.

As part of Eleanor’s Hope, we’ll advocate for legislation in the new Congress that addresses the inequities threatening millions of retired women and work to elect lawmakers who share our vision of retirement equity for women. Take a moment to watch our video...and share with your friends.

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Fulfilling Eleanor's Hope for America

This was originally posted at The Huffington Post by NCPSSM President/CEO Max Richtman

America’s longest-serving First Lady and social activist, Eleanor Roosevelt, would have celebrated her birthday this week.  There have been so many momentous changes in our nation during the fifty-plus years since her death.  Even so, one can’t help but wonder if we have truly fulfilled Eleanor’s hope for America, particularly when it comes to equity for women.

In so many ways, women have come a long way; however, American women are still lagging behind their male peers in too many significant measures. Retirement security is one of those areas where women still face a future marked by inequality.  That’s why we at the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare have launched “Eleanor’s Hope,” a national initiative mobilizing women of all ages to advocate for income equality, retirement security and health protection. 

“It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”
-- Eleanor Roosevelt

The demographic reality facing most American women simply can’t be ignored.  Women live longer than men, on average, yet their lifetime earnings are generally lower.  They are more likely to work in part-time jobs that don’t qualify for a retirement plan or interrupt their careers to take care of family.  The gender wage gap continues, meaning women earn only 78 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts. Lower wages mean less is contributed to Social Security for their retirement.  The good news is more women are participating in pension and retirement savings plans than ever before.  The bad news is that the retirement savings gap persists.

According to the New School for Social Research, 75 percent of Americans nearing retirement have less than $30,000 in their retirement accounts. Almost half of middle-class workers will be poor or near poor in retirement and living on a $5-per-day food budget. The National Institute for Retirement Security reports four out of five working families have retirement savings less than one times their annual income and 45 percent do not have any retirement assets at all.  The economic downturn was especially difficult for elderly women.  The latest census reports that nearly 2.6 million elderly women are living in poverty and 733,000 of those live in extreme poverty.  For women who live longer on lower benefits, America’s retirement crisis is very real.  That’s why the financial protection Social Security provides is even more critical for the millions of women who depend on this vital program to keep them from poverty.

Not only do women live longer than men they are also more likely to suffer from three or more chronic conditions including arthritis, hypertension and osteoporosis, making Medicare especially vital for older women. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimated that out-of-pocket spending in 2009 for Medicare beneficiaries 65 and older was $4,844 for women compared to $4,230 for men.  As beneficiaries age, out-of-pocket spending consumes a larger share of their income.  At age 85, total out-of-pocket spending for women was estimated to be $7,555 compared to $5,835 for men.  Clearly, the inequity women face in the workplace continues to follow them even into retirement.

 “The battle for the individual rights of women is one of long standing and none of us

should countenance anything which undermines it.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

There are ways to address these inequities if we can find the political will.  Our “Eleanor’s Hope” campaign will lead grassroots advocacy and education efforts in our communities and on Capitol Hill to build momentum in Congress to address these critical retirement issues.  Our goal is to raise awareness, recruit and train new activists and bolster Congressional leaders who are making a difference on women’s health and retirement security issues.  We’ll advocate for legislation that addresses the inequities threatening millions of retired women.  Some of our proposals for Social Security and Medicare include:

  • Providing Social Security credits for caregivers
  • Improving Social Security survivor benefits
  • Equalizing Social Security’s rules for disabled widows
  • Strengthening the Social Security Cost of Living Allowance
  • Boosting the basic Social Security benefit of all current and future beneficiaries
  • Building on preventive care provisions in the Affordable Care Act and expanding coordination of care for beneficiaries with multiple chronic conditions.
  • Generating greater savings on the cost of prescription drugs by increasing manufacturer discounts, allowing Medicare to receive the same drug rebates as Medicaid for dual-eligibles, and promoting lower drug costs by providing for faster development of generic drugs. 

If this sounds ambitious, it’s because it is.  However, just under 77 million baby boomers are retiring and more than half of them are women.  Too many will face retirement inequity and insecurity.  As we honor Eleanor Roosevelt’s legacy this week and into the future, we must continue the work necessary to fulfill Eleanor’s hope for America.

“The future is literally in our hands to mold as we like. We cannot wait

until tomorrow. Tomorrow is now.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

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Causeyp@ncpssm.org(202) 216-8378
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(202) 216-8414

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