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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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Poorer, Older and Sicker: The Challenges Facing America's Senior Women

New Women's Initiative Focuses on Income Inequality, Health and Retirement Security

“Eleanor’s Hope” continues Roosevelt legacy of social progress
 

The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare was joined by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Congresswoman Gwen Moore (D-WI), NOW President Terry O’Neill and Tufts Health Plan President/CEO, James Roosevelt, Jr. on a press call today to announce the launch of a new national initiative called Eleanor’s Hope, to help bring an end to the disparity between men’s and women’s income, health and retirement security.

“The National Committee is excited to launch the “Eleanor’s Hope” initiative today with the support of many influential allies and Members of Congress. Women have a lot at stake in November’s election and beyond.  Through grassroots advocacy and education in our communities and on Capitol Hill, the “Eleanor’s Hope” project will raise awareness, recruit and train new activists, highlight female leaders who are making a difference and generate national interest in women’s health and retirement security issues leading up to the 2014 and 2016 elections.”... Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO

The National Committee was founded in 1982 by Eleanor & Franklin Roosevelt’s son, former Congressman James Roosevelt. It is that Roosevelt heritage, and in the spirit of Eleanor’s work on women’s and social issues, that this new project will honor her name.

“Social Security has contributed to the financial well-being of almost every American family and is among my grandparents’ greatest legacies. My grandmother’s activism for women’s equity, poverty prevention and other social issues was based on her boundless optimism that the American people could move mountains if only freed from the fear of want and destitution.  Her hope has yet to be fully realized for too many Americans -- I believe the Eleanor’s Hope initiative will help to change that.”.... James Roosevelt, Jr., President/CEO Tufts Health Plan & Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s grandson 

While Social Security is a program that is vitally important to all Americans, it is especially important to the financial security of women. Not only do women, on average, live longer than men they also earn less in Social Security benefits. These fiscal realities facing millions of American women increase the risk that they may outlive their savings, impoverishing them and their families.

"We are on the front edge of a retirement crisis, which means that protecting and expanding Social Security is an increasingly important part of improving retirement security. Because women earn less than men, they are more vulnerable in retirement.  I’m happy the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare is focusing on this issue through the Eleanor's Hope initiative," Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) said. "For nearly half of women age 65 and older, Social Security is all that stands between them and poverty. We must keep our commitment to our seniors by strengthening Social Security, so that after a lifetime of hard work, everyone has a chance to retire with dignity.”

“The time is now to address and improve the fiscal outlook for Social Security and extend the solvency of the system. Women, people of color and low-income families are counting on us to update and improve this critical social safety net. This is why the National Committee’s 'Eleanor’s Hope' initiative is so vital. Through advocacy, recruitment, and training programs, America’s female leaders are given a valuable platform to raise awareness around the health and retirement security issues of our American women and girls. I'm proud to be a part of this important effort.”... Congresswoman Gwen Moore (D-WI) 

When it comes to the issues of retirement security and gender equity, the differences in policy choices offered by candidates are stark.  The future of generations of women and their families depend on providing income equality during their working years and strong Social Security and Medicare programs in their retirement, so women have a lot at stake in these upcoming elections. 

Women are the sole or primary breadwinners in nearly half of all families in the U.S. -- yet two-thirds of minimum wage workers, and nearly 80 percent of sub-minimum wage tipped workers, are women.  Candidates for office need to realize that women, along with the men in their lives, will vote for those who support wage equality and policies that ensure their retirement security.”...Terry O’Neill, NOW President

The goal of Eleanor’s Hope is to raise awareness through community–based and on-line education, recruit and train new activists, and bolster Congressional leaders who are making a difference on women’s income, health and retirement security issues.  We’ll advocate for legislation that addresses the inequities threatening millions of retired women.  Some of the National Committee’s proposals for improving benefits in 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. 

The National Committee will hold a Congressional staff briefing, Tuesday, October 14th, on the issues and policy prescriptions needed to address the income inequality, retirement insecurity and health inequities facing women. Then on October 15th we’ll join members of the nation’s only all-female Congressional delegation in New Hampshire to talk about the “Eleanor’s Hope” initiative.  Nationwide, our activists are already in the field educating, advocating and collecting “Eleanor’s Hope” pledges from women who have promised to get out and vote in November and beyond.  We’ve also engaged our membership and active on-line communities to convince Washington that now’s the time to address the retirement crisis facing millions of American women and their families.

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Poorer, Older and Sicker: The Challenges Facing America's Senior Women

New Women's Initiative Focuses on Income Inequality, Health and Retirement Security

“Eleanor’s Hope” continues Roosevelt legacy of social progress
 

The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare was joined by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Congresswoman Gwen Moore (D-WI), NOW President Terry O’Neill and Tufts Health Plan President/CEO, James Roosevelt, Jr. on a press call today to announce the launch of a new national initiative called Eleanor’s Hope, to help bring an end to the disparity between men’s and women’s income, health and retirement security.

“The National Committee is excited to launch the “Eleanor’s Hope” initiative today with the support of many influential allies and Members of Congress. Women have a lot at stake in November’s election and beyond.  Through grassroots advocacy and education in our communities and on Capitol Hill, the “Eleanor’s Hope” project will raise awareness, recruit and train new activists, highlight female leaders who are making a difference and generate national interest in women’s health and retirement security issues leading up to the 2014 and 2016 elections.”... Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO

The National Committee was founded in 1982 by Eleanor & Franklin Roosevelt’s son, former Congressman James Roosevelt. It is that Roosevelt heritage, and in the spirit of Eleanor’s work on women’s and social issues, that this new project will honor her name.

“Social Security has contributed to the financial well-being of almost every American family and is among my grandparents’ greatest legacies. My grandmother’s activism for women’s equity, poverty prevention and other social issues was based on her boundless optimism that the American people could move mountains if only freed from the fear of want and destitution.  Her hope has yet to be fully realized for too many Americans -- I believe the Eleanor’s Hope initiative will help to change that.”.... James Roosevelt, Jr., President/CEO Tufts Health Plan & Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s grandson 

While Social Security is a program that is vitally important to all Americans, it is especially important to the financial security of women. Not only do women, on average, live longer than men they also earn less in Social Security benefits. These fiscal realities facing millions of American women increase the risk that they may outlive their savings, impoverishing them and their families.

"We are on the front edge of a retirement crisis, which means that protecting and expanding Social Security is an increasingly important part of improving retirement security. Because women earn less than men, they are more vulnerable in retirement.  I’m happy the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare is focusing on this issue through the Eleanor's Hope initiative," Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) said. "For nearly half of women age 65 and older, Social Security is all that stands between them and poverty. We must keep our commitment to our seniors by strengthening Social Security, so that after a lifetime of hard work, everyone has a chance to retire with dignity.”

“The time is now to address and improve the fiscal outlook for Social Security and extend the solvency of the system. Women, people of color and low-income families are counting on us to update and improve this critical social safety net. This is why the National Committee’s 'Eleanor’s Hope' initiative is so vital. Through advocacy, recruitment, and training programs, America’s female leaders are given a valuable platform to raise awareness around the health and retirement security issues of our American women and girls. I'm proud to be a part of this important effort.”... Congresswoman Gwen Moore (D-WI) 

When it comes to the issues of retirement security and gender equity, the differences in policy choices offered by candidates are stark.  The future of generations of women and their families depend on providing income equality during their working years and strong Social Security and Medicare programs in their retirement, so women have a lot at stake in these upcoming elections. 

Women are the sole or primary breadwinners in nearly half of all families in the U.S. -- yet two-thirds of minimum wage workers, and nearly 80 percent of sub-minimum wage tipped workers, are women.  Candidates for office need to realize that women, along with the men in their lives, will vote for those who support wage equality and policies that ensure their retirement security.”...Terry O’Neill, NOW President

The goal of Eleanor’s Hope is to raise awareness through community–based and on-line education, recruit and train new activists, and bolster Congressional leaders who are making a difference on women’s income, health and retirement security issues.  We’ll advocate for legislation that addresses the inequities threatening millions of retired women.  Some of the National Committee’s proposals for improving benefits in 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. 

The National Committee will hold a Congressional staff briefing, Tuesday, October 14th, on the issues and policy prescriptions needed to address the income inequality, retirement insecurity and health inequities facing women. Then on October 15th we’ll join members of the nation’s only all-female Congressional delegation in New Hampshire to talk about the “Eleanor’s Hope” initiative.  Nationwide, our activists are already in the field educating, advocating and collecting “Eleanor’s Hope” pledges from women who have promised to get out and vote in November and beyond.  We’ve also engaged our membership and active on-line communities to convince Washington that now’s the time to address the retirement crisis facing millions of American women and their families.

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2014 Social Security & Medicare Trustees Report

Hold the Rhetoric, Pass the Truth on the 2014 Trustees Report

This year’s projections come as no surprise to anyone who understands how Social Security and Medicare work. In fact, historically, the solvency date for the Social Security Trust Fund has fluctuated from a depletion date as distant as 2048 in the 1988 report to as soon as 2029 predicted in 1994 and 1997. On Medicare, each year since passage of the Affordable Care Act, the Trustees have reported the program’s improving solvency, this year adding an additional four years until 2030.  We should build on that success and continue reducing the high cost of health care system-wide, not just in Medicare.

This year’s Trustees reports prove, once again, how successful and stable Social Security and Medicare continue to be for the American people and the federal government.”... Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO

Here are some of the key points in the 2014 Trustees Report:

·         Trustees project Social Security will be able to pay full benefits until the year 2033.  After that, Social Security will still have sufficient revenue to pay 77% of benefits if no changes are made to the program.

·         Social Security remains well-funded. In 2014, as the economy continues to improve, Social Security’s total income is projected to exceed its expenses. In fact, the Trustees estimate that total annual income will exceed program obligations until 2019. 

·         Trustees project a Cost of Living Adjustment increase of about 1.5% in 2015.

·         The Trustees report there is now nearly $2.76 trillion in the Social Security Trust Fund, which is $32 billion more than last year and that it will continue to grow by payroll contributions and interest on the Trust Fund's assets.

With so little bad news to report in this 2014 Trustees report, critics have now shifted their attention to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), which faces a more immediate challenge and requires Congress’ action for a reallocation.

·         Trustees project the Disability Trust fund will be depleted in 2016, the same year projected in last year’s report. This projected shortfall is not a surprise and Congress should reallocate income across the Social Security Trust Funds, as it has done 11 times before, to cover the anticipated shortfall.  Disability expenditures have increased primarily due to demographic trends.  When Congress took action in 1994 to address a shortfall in SSDI, it knew that it would have to take action again in 2015 or 2016. Unfortunately, some in Congress have politicized this anticipated shortfall and threatened to delay action in order to force cuts throughout the entire Social Security program.

On Medicare, the 2014 Trustees report shows slowing the growth of health care costs has improved Medicare’s Trust Fund.

·         Medicare solvency remains greatly improved thanks to passage of healthcare reform, with the program paying full benefits until 2030, four years later than the 2013 report. Health care spending has also grown much more slowly.

·         Medicare Part B premiums are not projected to increase in 2015. 

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More Retirees – Fewer Social Security Offices to Help

The Social Security Administration’s budget has been under assault for years. Today the Senate Special Committee on Aging will examine the real-life impact these cuts are having on millions of seniors, people with disabilities, survivors and their families:

“The hearing, the culmination of a bipartisan committee staff investigation into service reductions at the Social Security Administration (SSA), comes at a time when baby boomers are filing record numbers of retirement, disability and survivor claims with the agency.  Despite the rising demand, the SSA is currently in the midst of the largest five-year decline in field offices in its 79-year history.  Budget cuts have, in part, led the agency to close 64 field offices and 533 temporary mobile offices since 2010.  The SSA has also shed some 11,000 workers over the last three years and continues to reduce or eliminate a variety of in-person services while trying to shift seniors and others online to conduct their business.”

According to the New York Times:

 “The field offices served over 43 million people last year. About 10 percent of the visitors filed for benefits, and 30 percent were seeking new or replacement Social Security cards.

... Nancy A. Berryhill, a deputy commissioner at the agency, said its budget and work force had not kept pace with what she described as “a staggering 27 percent increase” in claims for retirement benefits, to 3.3 million last year, from 2.6 million in 2007.

Social Security encourages consumers to use the Internet to do business with the agency. In 2013, Ms. Berryhill said, ‘we received nearly half of all Social Security retirement and disability applications online, and the percentage of people who choose to file online continues to grow.’”

Michael Hiltzik at the Los Angeles Times correctly points out the problem with this shift to online services:

But is that an adequate substitute? No way. For one thing, you have to know that your statement is available via the Internet, you have to know where to find it, and you have to be able to navigate a registration procedure that is not all that user-friendly -- especially for someone not familiar with navigating the Web, and double-especially for someone without easy access to a computer. Despite a claim that we all live in the digital world today, those are not small groups.

Importantly, the Social Security Administration has made no discernible effort to proactively advise Americans that the paper statements are a thing of the past. In other words, what was once its most effective outreach to millions of people has disappeared without a trace, or a single word of warning.

Social Security says that if you have problems accessing the online service, you can get help at a Social Security office. Of course, those offices, which used to be open until 4 p.m., are now open only till 3:30. Starting in mid-November, they'll only be open till 3. And starting Jan. 2, they'll be closing at noon Wednesdays.

"There's already an enormous amount of unhappiness for people who walk to their Social Security office and find a sign saying, 'We closed at 3:30,'" says Webster Phillips, a former Social Security associate commissioner who now works with the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.”

In testimony submitted to the Senate Aging Committee, NCPSSM President/CEO Max Richtman says:

“...the National Committee believes any individual who has paid Social Security taxes has the right to face-to-face service within a reasonable distance of their home.

The National Committee also is concerned that seniors and low-income individuals who are accustomed to conducting business on a face-to-face basis will suffer undue hardship when faced with the need for a benefit verification letter or SSN printout.  Many in this population lack access to and are not familiar with computers and printers.  I am also concerned that shifting this administrative burden to SSA call centers will only increase the current average wait time of 26 minutes.” 

While some Members of Congress appear quick to blame the Social Security Administration for these closures, as if they’ve happened in a vacuum, others have been warning years of budget cuts to the SSA -- happening at the same time service needs are increasing --  would ultimately hurt millions of Americans who rely on the Social Security benefits they've worked a lifetime to earn:

Representative Xavier Becerra of California, the senior Democrat on the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security, has repeatedly expressed concerns about the agency’s operating budget, which was $11 billion in 2013, about 4 percent less than in 2010. ‘No one should be surprised that service hours have been reduced, wait times have increased and local offices have closed,’ Mr. Becerra said.”

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