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SSA Funding Cuts Will Hurt the Disabled, Retirees, and Children

National Committee President Max Richtman joined advocates and elected representatives on Capitol Hill today to demand that Congress adequately fund the Social Security Administration (SSA).   Richtman, Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Bob Casey (D-PA) railed against Republican plans to cut nearly $500 million from the Social Security Administration's operating budget in the upcoming government funding bill.

The agency has been woefully underfunded since 2011 and Social Security claimants have been paying the price in the form of reduced service and long wait times.  Social Security's core operating budget shrank by 11 percent from 2010 to 2017 in inflation-adjusted terms. This occurred even as 10,000 baby boomers a day reach retirement age.  Congress has the ability to solve this problem, but has not signaled a willingness to do so.  

The House-approved FY 2018 appropriations legislation would continue underfunding the agency, freezing SSA's operating funds for another year.  The Senate Appropriations Committee has proposed an even more painful reduction of $460 million, nearly 4 percent of the operating budget. 

At today’s event on Capitol Hill, Max Richtman highlighted the costs of SSA budget cuts to applicants and claimants:

“The result of this neglect is obvious.  When workloads increase, and funding is cut, service suffers – big time. The money to adequately fund the administration of Social Security is there. But the collective conscience of Congressional leaders is absent. Time and again, they have knowingly cut the number of lifelines available to workers, retirees, the disabled and their families.” – Max Richtman, president of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, 1/18/18

In fact, some 10,000 disabled Americans died last year waiting for a Social Security disability hearing. That shameful figure alone should be a compelling enough argument for restoring SSA’s funding to adequate levels. Budget cuts have forced SSA to close more than 60 field offices across the country, reducing in-person access to services. The average wait time on SSA’s toll-free number is 18 minutes.  The average national wait time for a disability hearing exceeded 600 days in 2017.  Ironically, these service cuts come at a time when 10,000 Baby Boomers become eligible for Social Security every day.

 “The enemies of Social Security in Congress are making a very bad situation even worse (by proposing cuts to SSA’s operating budget.)  They want to make it impossible to effectively administer the program, and ultimately want to destroy Social Security.” – Senator Bernie Sanders, 1/18/18

“America made a promise to Social Security beneficiaries.  America must honor its promise and that means no cuts to the Social Security Administration.  We must make sure that seniors, the disabled, and survivors of beneficiaries receive the benefits they are entitled to.” – Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), 1/18/18

Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) decried the majority party’s “maniacal obsession” with cutting costs “in the most pernicious way,” making it harder for the Social Security Administration to carry out its mission.

SSA is funded through workers’ Social Security payroll contributions and not from general revenue.  The agency is one of the most efficient in the entire federal government, spending less than 1% of its revenue on administrative costs.  Congress is wrong to leave the agency so grossly underfunded, but some lawmakers may have a hidden agenda in letting SSA languish. 

 “Starving the Social Security Administration’s administrative funding is not only pennywise and pound foolish, it also amounts to a backdoor way to dismantle Social Security by eroding the public’s confidence in the program.”  - Max Richtman, 1/18/18

It is not outrageous to suggest that the budget-induced aggravation and delay confronting claimants would, indeed, undercut public support for Social Security, smoothing the way for actual benefit cuts later. 

The retired, disabled and survivor constituents of members of Congress deserve better. That’s why the National Committee urges Congress to reject the Senate Appropriations Committee's $460 million cut and instead increase Social Security’s operating budget so it can do its job for the American people:  a job they deserve, and as it happens, a job for which they have pre-paid.

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Hollow Victory for Trump & GOP is a Loss for Seniors, Working Americans

National Committee President and CEO Max Richtman issued the following statement after passage of the Trump/GOP tax plan::::


“Congressional Republicans have just pulled off the biggest heist in American history – transferring trillions of dollars of wealth to the rich and profitable corporations at the expense of working and middle class Americans.  By ramming this ill-considered legislation through Congress in a reckless manner, GOP members of Congress put partisanship over people and donors over constituents.  Last-minute revisions designed to woo holdout Senators – including a change benefitting real estate moguls like President Trump – tilted the bill even further toward wealthy elites.  

It is wrong to ask the poor, the working class, and elderly to pay for tax breaks for the rich and powerful, which is exactly what the Trump/GOP tax bill will do.  The tax cuts will explode the federal debt by at least $1.5 trillion, laying the groundwork for an all-out effort to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.  House Speaker Paul Ryan and Florida Senator Marco Rubio have already promised as much in recent public statements.  Blowing up the debt for tax cuts, then claiming that there’s no choice but to cut benefits for seniors is the height of hypocrisy. As proof of Republicans’ intent, the 2018 GOP budget resolution slashes nearly $500 billion from Medicare and more than $1 trillion from Medicaid. 

The bill’s repeal of the Obamacare individual mandate will result in 13 million Americans losing coverage, and an average $1,500 hike in health insurance premiums for older adults aged 50-64.  Adopting the miserly “Chained CPI” inflation index for calculating tax brackets and deductions could easily creep into the formula for determining Social Security cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs), which would cost retirees thousands of dollars in the long run.  Unfortunately, the pleas of advocates and everyday Americans demanding that Congress abandon this cynical legislation has fallen on deaf ears. But it’s a hollow victory for the GOP. While the perpetrators of the tax scam may be popping the champagne today, next November they surely will see that voters have declared the party’s over.” 

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National Committee President, House Dems Decry GOP Tax Plan’s "Dire" Impact on Seniors

As Republicans remain indifferent – or in denial – about the impact of the Trump/GOP tax scam on older Americans, seniors’ defenders are sounding the alarm.  National Committee president and CEO Max Richtman joined House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic representatives in front of the U.S. Capitol today to warn of the dangers the tax plan poses to seniors’ retirement and health security. Richtman called the tax bill a “con game that should be called the ‘Washington two-step.’”

“Step one is cutting taxes for top-earning households and profitable corporations. Step two:  use the higher deficits the tax bill will create to cut critical programs, like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.” – Max Richtman, NCPSSM president and CEO, 12/6/17

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) let the cat out of the bag when he acknowledged that Republicans will come after seniors’ earned benefit programs as soon as the tax cut passes.  In fact, the tax bill will trigger an immediate $25 billion cut to Medicare unless Congress quickly waives the PAYGO provision of federal budget law. (Both Medicare and Medicaid – which helps seniors afford long-term care – are targeted for deep cuts in the GOP budget plan.) The tax scam also hurts older Americans by zeroing out the Obamacare coverage mandate penalty (which could result in higher premiums for 50-64 year-olds).  It also imposes the paltry “Chained CPI” as an inflation index for taxes, which could later bleed over into Social Security cost-of-living adjustments and shrink badly needed increases in retirees’ checks. 

Speaking on this chilly December afternoon in the nation’s capital, Leader Pelosi said, “It’s a cold day for seniors because of this GOP tax scam. It is an assault on the older Americans who built this country.  Seniors are among the biggest losers in this legislation.”

Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) called the tax bill “the first step in the Republican plan to undermine the financial and health security of older Americans.”

Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA) observed that the threat to seniors from the GOP tax legislation “keeps getting worse and worse” and said the bill would have “cruel and dire” consequences.  She slammed the House bill’s repeal of the medical expense deduction, which millions of seniors use to mitigate high out-of-pocket medical and long-term care costs.

Republican members of a House-Senate conference committee are currently meeting behind closed doors to work out the differences between each chamber’s version of the tax bill.  Leadership hopes to pass a final bill and send it to President Trump for signature before Christmas – perhaps the worst holiday gift Congress could possibly give to the American people.  Seniors and their advocates are right to be concerned about this legislation, which is deeply unpopular with the public (only 29% of Americans support it in the most recent polling).  But after years of dreaming about slashing Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, Republicans are now in a position to carry out their craven plans - without apparent regard for public opinion, fairness, or decency. 

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The Week Brings Good & Bad News for Medicaid


Let’s start with the good news. Yesterday, voters in Maine overwhelmingly approved the expansion of Medicaid in their state (59% to 41%), bucking the will of Republican Governor Paul LePage. The Governor had vetoed Medicaid expansion five times, but the people had the final say in yesterday’s referendum.  Now, some 70,000 Mainers should be newly eligible for Medicaid.  That includes thousands of older residents not yet eligible for Medicare who can’t afford private health coverage.  Forbes calls the outcome a “victory for Obamacare.” 

A spokesman for the group that sponsored the ballot initiative starkly defined the stakes.

“Too many Mainers have already waited too long for health care. They shouldn’t have to wait any longer. The governor cannot ignore the law or the Constitution of Maine. Simply put, the governor does not have veto power of citizen’s initiatives and he cannot ignore the law.” – David Farmer, Maine Medicaid expansion advocate

The federal government will cover 90% of the cost of expansion, injecting nearly $500 million into Maine’s economy in the next two fiscal years. A recent study says those federal funds will generate 6,000 new jobs (mostly in the health sector). 

Maine becomes the 33rd state (including D.C.) to expand Medicare.  But as Sarah Kliff writes in Vox, the way Maine did it provides a potential template for expanding the program in other states:

Maine is the first state to expand Medicaid during the Trump administration, and also the first to do so via a ballot initiative than legislation. This offers a possible playbook for health care advocates in other states looking to extend coverage but stymied by political opposition. – Sarah Kliff, Vox 11/7/17

Of the 17 holdout states, Utah, Idaho, and Kansas may see Medicaid expansion on the ballot in 2018.  Increased coverage, better access to care, and a huge economic boon should make this an obvious ‘yes’ vote – though outcomes are not guaranteed, especially without robust advocacy.

Advocates can expect the same kind of pushback from conservatives in these other states.  Governor LaPage peddled the falsehood that the expansion would put an unsustainable financial burden on the Maine government.  The Portland-Press Herald reports that the governor also perpetuated the myth that expanding Medicaid would give “free” healthcare to “able-bodied adults who can work and contribute to their own health insurance costs.”

And that leads us to some bad news, which is that the Trump administration is using that same canard to chip away at Medicaid in red states across the country.  Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), announced a rule change this week that will allow states to impose work requirements on Medicaid beneficiaries.  This supposes, of course, that there are legions of lazy Medicaid enrollees who could work, but just don’t want to – a total myth.

As Talking Points Memo reported, most adults on Medicaid suffer from some of disability and cannot work.  According to a 2017 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, only 27% of Medicaid beneficiaries are adults without disabilities.  Of those, 60% are, in fact, working.  Most of the recipients not working have one of the following extenuating circumstances: 

  1. Caring for a family member full-time
  2. Lack of jobs in their area
  3. Criminal record prevents employment

The bottom line:  most of the Medicaid recipients who can work do work

These new conditions will especially onerous for some six million older Americans (age 45-64) currently on Medicaid.  This age group experiences more disability and chronic illness than younger recipients do.  If forced to go without care because of new restrictions, they will arrive at the doorstep of Medicare in worse health, which can drive up program costs. 

The Obama administration had it right, by allowing rule changes at the state level which “increase and strengthen overall coverage of low-income individuals” and “improve health outcomes for Medicaid and other low-income populations.” The Trump administration, under Verma’s leadership, is showing its contempt for the elderly and poor – and knee-jerk suspicion of federal programs that actually help society’s most vulnerable. What’s more, CMS’ new rules defy candidate Trump’s promises to “not touch your Medicaid.” But as we’ve seen with his pledges to protect Social Security and Medicare, the President’s promises are not worth the megabits they’re tweeted on. 

 

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National Committee President Warns Senators About GOP Tax & Budget Scheme

Seniors and other vulnerable Americans will be hurt if the just-released GOP tax scheme is enacted.  National Committee president Max Richtman told a hearing room full of Senators - including Sen. Ron Wyden (D-WA), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), and Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) - that the Republicans' budget and tax legislation must be defeated.

“The Republican budget and tax plans allow [Congress] to slash programs critical to older Americans and people with disabilities – all to pay for massive tax cuts for the very wealthy and profitable corporations.” – Max Richtman, 11/1/17

We analyzed the harm that the GOP proposals would wreak on older Americans in a post last week, entitled GOP Budget Resolution a "Lump of Coal" for Seniors, Middle Class.  Among the more heinous measures, Republicans seek to cut nearly $500 billion from Medicare, $1.3 trillion from Medicaid, more than $600 billion from Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), and will likely slash billions from other programs that seniors rely on for financial and health security.  

Richtman told the Senators that Medicare beneficiaries “cannot afford to pay more for less coverage” – particularly when half of them have incomes of less than $26,200 a year and spend 25 percent of their Social Security check to pay for Medicare premiums and cost-sharing. “And they cannot afford cuts to Medicare such as those assumed in the House budget – turning Medicare into a voucher program and raising the eligibility age from 65 to 67,” he explained.

What’s more, the tax plan will increase the national debt and compel Republicans to cut seniors’ earned benefits more aggressively in the future – even though Social Security and Medicare Part A are self-financed and do not contribute to federal budget deficits.

 “By increasing the federal budget deficit by at least $1.5 trillion, this measure would leave Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid vulnerable to benefit cuts to make up the difference.” – Max Richtman, 11/1/17

Under the tax bill supported by President Trump and congressional Republicans, the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimates the top one percent of Americans would receive 80 percent of the tax cuts. For the top one percent, the average annual tax cut would be over $200,000 by 2027. 

The bottom 80 percent of Americans would receive 13 percent of the tax cuts. In fact, 115 million households earning less than $75,000 a year would receive a tax cut of just $190 on average. But ultimately, most Americans would lose much more in program cuts than they would gain from tax cuts. 

Richtman implored Congress to resist this reckless legislation:

“The National Committee urges all Senators and Representatives to oppose legislation to enact these ‘Robin Hood-in-Reverse’ budget and tax proposals and instead work together to protect the retirement and health security commitments made to generations of Americans." - Max Richtman, 11/1/17


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