September 27, 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 H.R. 5305 – the Extending Government Funding and Delivering Emergency Assistance Act. This legislation will extend funding for government operations through December 3, 2021, suspend the limit on the nation’s debt through December 16, 2022 and provide needed federal disaster relief funds. 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.
In addition to the suspension in the debt limit, H.R. 5305 includes continuing appropriations through December 3rd and significant relief for the areas of our nation currently suffering the consequences of a series of natural disasters. Forcing the federal government to shut down for lack of appropriations also has a direct impact on services for seniors. In the case of the operations of the Social Security Administration, we have seen the consequences that result from a lack of personnel to administer its programs during the closures necessitated by the pandemic. With field offices closed, seniors faced significant challenges from applying for benefits to making changes to their records, and the disability program has developed backlogs that could take years to resolve. These issues arose even though Social Security’s staff were working, albeit remotely. In the case of a government shutdown, all consumer interactions with the agency would be compromised. Similar problems would be seen at the Department of Health and Human Services’s Administration for Community Living and the Centers for Medicare Services.
Finally, disaster relief funds are critically needed in hard-hit areas of our country by Americans of all ages, but the need is especially critical for those over age 65 as they are less likely to have savings to fall back on, and less ability to recover from the health and financial effects of natural disasters. Living in communal settings due to loss of housing can be especially dangerous due to potential exposure to COVID, even for those fully vaccinated. States that have been hard-hit recently have significant senior populations. For example, according to the latest census the percentage of residents over age 65 in Louisiana is 12 percent, Texas 16 percent, Arizona 18 percent and North Carolina 17 percent. These represent tens of millions of seniors who desperately need the financial relief that is provided in H.R. 5305.
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 H.R. 5305 before September 30, 2021.
President and CEO