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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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Checkout NCPSSM’s “Equal Time”

 

Contrary to the headlines and sound bites coming from America’s newsrooms,  Social Security and Medicare aren’t to blame for our nation’s fiscal woes or our deficit.  In fact, without these vital programs our economy would be in even worse shape and millions more American families would be threatened with economic insecurity. Why do so many journalists and news/talk-show hosts ignore the facts in favor of one-sided propaganda? Why won’t they allow all sides to weigh on these important issues?  Whatever the reasons, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare believes the public deserves more balanced research and discussion.  The truth about our nation’s most successful and revered programs deserves EQUAL TIME. 

Our project, EQUAL TIME, busts through the myths and misleading statements in the news about Social Security and Medicare. We will find and correct the factual errors and politically charged perspectives. We’ll use social media like Facebook and Twitter to inform the reporters, pundits and anchors when they’ve been the subject of an EQUAL TIME correction. In this way, we hope to influence the mainstream media to use facts, not fiction, in their coverage of these important programs.   

Have you seen a story in which media got it wrong?  If so, let us know and we’ll track it down and provide the truth about Social Security and Medicare.  

 

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What's Next for Social Security and Medicare?

 Election Reaction from NCPSSM President/CEO, Max Richtman

“President Obama’s re-election is good news for America’s seniors and their families.  Their new Medicare benefits provided through the Affordable Care Act will be preserved, threats to turn Medicare into a voucher plan have been rebuffed, and the voters have made it clear they do not support cutting middle-class benefits to preserve tax cuts for millionaires.

President Obama is right…we are not as divided as our politics suggests…especially when it comes to Social Security and Medicare.  Our grassroots voter education campaign heard from citizens throughout the nation who are frustrated with Washington’s inability to protect the middle-class. Outside of the Beltway, there’s been little disagreement about the path we should take going forward.  The vast majority of the American people of all ages and political stripes soundly reject the idea that cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid should be used as bargaining chips in any deficit reduction plan. Putting tax cuts for the wealthy on the table is the right thing to do and shouldn’t be negotiated at the expense of seniors and their families.

Americans do have common hopes and dreams that drove them to re-elect President Obama --key among them are the preservation of the nation’s most successful economic and health security programs.”… Max Richtman, President/CEO, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare

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Will Democrats Promise No Cuts to Social Security?

If you had a few minutes to talk to leaders of the Democratic Party, as they prepare for the 2012 election, what would you tell them?  The National Committee was presented with that unique opportunity this weekend and our message was simple -- Washington should not support middle-class benefit cuts as part of a “Grand Bargain” to cut deficits. 

NCPSSM’s Board Chair, Dr. Maya Rockeymoore, and Florida NCPSSM member Carol Berman testified to members of the Democratic National Committee platform drafting committee in Minneapolis this weekend.  Here’s an excerpt of their comments:

Maya Rockeymoore, Ph.D., Chair of the Board of Directors

National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare

Democrats can be proud of their long list of landmark accomplishments which enable seniors to live independent and dignified lives.  It is Democrats who pulled seniors out of poverty through the creation of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the Older Americans Act. During the 2012 campaign and beyond, the Democratic Party can honor the legacies of Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson by standing up for seniors.  Standing up for Social Security. And, standing up for Medicare and Medicaid. Unfortunately, too many Washington politicians are uncompromising in their belief that middle class benefits should be cut to pay for tax loopholes for the richest two percent and large profitable corporations who move American jobs overseas.  However, rather than fight this intransigence, some of the traditional allies of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid have said that “everything should be on the table.”

Everything, including benefit cuts that would harm seniors, people with disabilities and children and have a disproportionately negative affect on women and communities of color. Responding to the party of NO by being the party of MAYBE is not a winning formula and it won’t be persuasive for a majority of seniors. The polling is clear on that. Voters of all ages and political persuasions don't support cutting benefits to middle-class Americans who depend on Social Security and Medicare (now or in the future) to repair our ailing economy.

There is no other issue that draws this level of nonpartisan support: 94 percent of Democrats, 82 percent of Independents and 64 percent of Republicans prefer raising taxes on the richest two percent of income earners rather than cutting benefits. Democrats have a historic opportunity in this year's election to win over middle class seniors by drawing a clear line in the sand in defense of the core American values of hard work, fairness and compassion embodied in our nation's most successful programs. 

Towards that goal, the committee can reassure seniors that Democrats are fighting to protect their earned Social Security and Medicare benefits by using this testimony to draft the 2012 Democratic National Committee platform.  In addition, we urge you to include language in the platform to defend and expand Medicaid for vulnerable seniors, people with disabilities and children who need health care and/or long-term services and supports.

By applying taxes more fairly to all workers, benefits do not have to be cut. Among the proposals we’ve recommended for inclusion in the Democratic platform:
•           Eliminate the cap on Social Security payroll tax contributions. 
•           Gradual Increase in the Contribution Rate. 
•           Reform the Treatment of Salary Reduction Plans. 
•           Improving Survivor Benefits.
•           Provide Social Security Credits for Caregivers. 
•           Enhance the Special Minimum Benefits. 
•           Equalize Rules for Disabled Widows. 
•           Benefit Equality for Working Widows. 
•           Strengthening the COLA. 
•           Restoring Student Benefits. 

Carol Berman is a National Committee member and Social Security and Medicare beneficiary.  She described to the platform committee the critical role Social Security and Medicare played after her husband became incapacitated due to Alzheimer’s and their long-term care costs drained their savings:

Carol Berman, NCPSSM Member and Social Security & Medicare Beneficiary
West Palm Beach, FL

 “When it became clear that our funds would not last much longer and that my financial future was in serious jeopardy, I hired an elder care attorney who advised me to contact a state welfare worker.  This person told me that when my funds ran out I would be eligible for Section 8 housing, food stamps, and other welfare programs.  I could not believe that after working my whole life, this was my only option.  It was not what I dreamed of in my retirement years.

Ultimately, the only way I could avoid impoverishment and taking welfare was to preserve my only remaining source of money -- my 40lK.  To do that, I had to divorce my husband.  Thankfully, since my daily visits to the nursing home never wavered, my husband never knew the change in our marital status. He greeted me the same way every day during this terrible period with “here comes the pretty lady.I lived on the edge of financial disaster for a long time just because my husband needed long-term care. 

Social Security and Medicare were the lifelines I needed to come through that very difficult time. They are lifelines future generations will also need and they should be protected and strengthened – not cut or privatized.”

You can see our full testimony to the Democratic Platform Committee here.

 

 

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Pamela Causey
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Causeyp@ncpssm.org(202) 216-8378
(202) 236-2123 cell

Kim Wright
Assistant Director of Communications
Wrightk@ncpssm.org
(202) 216-8414

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