October 1, 2021
Washington, D.C. 20510
On behalf of the millions of members and supporters of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, I am writing to urge you to support S. 1301, legislation that would suspend the limit on the nation’s debt through December 16, 2022. It is essential that the Senate take up and pass this critical legislation, not only to protect our nation’s economy, but also to prevent the risk of significant economic harm specifically to the 65 million Americans who receive benefits through the Social Security program.
Social Security beneficiaries have earned their benefits through a lifetime of hard work and they rely on their benefit being paid on time and in full each and every month. These payments are at risk of not being paid on schedule for the first time in our nation’s history. Since the federal government has never defaulted on its debt obligations, we have never witnessed how a default would affect the payment of Social Security benefits. In the past, most congressional budget experts believed that a default could disrupt benefit payment. But now, the likelihood of benefits not being paid is higher than when a default was possible as a result of an impasse over the debt limit.
When Social Security’s Trust Funds were in surplus, Treasury had no need to borrow money to pay benefits so Social Security beneficiaries were largely insulated from the direct implications of a default. This year is different. Social Security is no longer in surplus. It is drawing down on the surpluses that have been intentionally built up over the past four decades to cover the anticipated retirement of the baby boom generation.
When Treasury can no longer borrow money because it has reached its authorized borrowing limit, it can no longer pay all of the nation’s bills on time and in full. Because the bonds in the Social Security Trust Funds “count” toward that borrowing limit, Social Security benefits are placed at risk. There are conflicting views among experts regarding whether the federal government has the legal authority to prioritize some bills over others, or which criteria Treasury might use to make those choices. What we do know is that beginning in October Treasury will be required to pay approximately $90 billion in benefits to 65 million Social Security beneficiaries (including retirees, disabled workers, widows and widowers, children and spouses) and that these benefits are at serious risk of not being paid on time or in full for the first time in the program’s history.
Another option under review, of delaying some payments until Treasury has accumulated sufficient funds to make those payments, would also cause a real crisis for many beneficiaries. How long these beneficiaries might suffer under this economic crisis is unclear, but the Bipartisan Policy Center has projected that $20 billion in benefit payments due on November 4th could be delayed until November 22nd. Almost two-thirds of beneficiaries rely on their Social Security benefits for over 50 percent of their income, and 40 percent rely on Social Security for 90 percent or more of their income. Delaying checks for these beneficiaries, potentially for weeks or months, will force them to decide whether they will pay the rent, buy food or postpone filling their prescriptions. The longer the checks are delayed, the worse the problem will become.
This situation is unconscionable. The Senate must put politics aside and raise the debt limit before incalculable damage is done to our nation’s economy and before 65 million Americans are forced to wonder whether they will receive the benefits they earned on time.
On behalf of your senior constituents and their families who may not be able to speak out for themselves, we strongly urge all Senators to enact S. 1301 without delay.
President and CEO