December 11, 2020
Senator Mazie Hirono
United States Senate
713 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
Dear Senator Hirono:
On behalf of the millions of members and supporters of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, I write to endorse your bill, the Social Security COVID-19 Correction and Equity Act. This bill will prevent an unintended and unanticipated devastating cut in Social Security benefits for over 3 million Americans who are expected to turn 60 in 2020.
As you know, irrespective of the age at which an individual claims Social Security benefits, key parts of the computation that determines the worker’s initial benefit amount are tied to aggregate wage levels (the Average Wage Index) in the year the person turns 60. This is the case whether the worker is retiring or has become eligible for disability benefits, as well as for those qualifying for survivor or spousal benefits.
As a result of the devastating impact COVID-19 has inflicted on the nation’s economy, aggregate wages are expected to be substantially lower in 2020 than they were in 2019. According to the Chief Actuary of Social Security, this will result in a sharp reduction in benefits for everyone born in 1960 compared to the benefits received by people born just one year earlier creating an effect known as a “notch”. The benefit cut to these workers is through no fault of their own and completely unrelated to the benefits they earned through their working lives. It is instead the consequence of the recession that has caused 42 million workers to lose their jobs or become furloughed due to the pandemic. The lower calculations for their initial benefit levels will follow these workers through their entire lifetime, providing significantly lower benefits for the rest of their lives.
Your bill corrects this problem by ensuring that the Average Wage Index as used to calculate benefits never drops below the previous year’s level, a change similar to the current-law floor for the Cost of Living Adjustment, which cannot go negative. Your legislation is also carefully crafted to avoid any benefit cuts compared to current law, protecting potential small increases in future benefit levels for everyone under age 60 who worked at any point in 2020, impacts that are also the consequence of the artificially low wage index resulting from the pandemic. These proposals would eliminate the “notch” and ensure that a new one is not created inadvertently.
In addition to this crucial correction to the benefic formula calculation, your bill includes important protections for those facing existing economic disparities. These include:
- Increasing benefits by 2 percent
- Increasing the threshold to 125 percent for the special minimum benefit, which will lift more life-long workers out of poverty
- Reducing taxation of benefits for lower-middle income beneficiaries
- Helping grandparents provide for dependent grandchildren
- Assisting dependent students so they can get the education they need to get good jobs
- Expanding benefits for dependent widows/widowers
- Expanding eligibility for Supplemental Security Income to provide more help to the poorest among us
On behalf of the millions of members and supporters of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, we applaud your long history of protecting and enhancing Social Security, the cornerstone of retirement security for American workers. We endorse your bill, the Social Security COVID-19 Correction and Equity Act and stand with you in defending Social Security, our nation’s sacred trust for todays’ workers and for future generations.
President and CEO