For the first time in recent memory, the U.S. House has begun holding hearings on the issue of expanding Social Security. On Wednesday, the newly-minted chairman of the House Ways and Means Social Security subcommittee, Rep. John Larson (D-CT), convened a hearing entitled, “Protecting and Improving Social Security: Benefit Enhancements.” The purpose, said Larson, is to “shine a bright light on all of the proposals to secure Social Security that will help the American people.”
Max Richtman, president of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, was the lead-off witness.
“Since the program’s creation 84 years ago, Social Security has been – and is – an enormously successful program which is essential to the retirement security of the vast majority of Americans. While (the) benefits are modest, Social Security is still the single largest source of income for retired Americans. To ensure the program’s continued success, it is vitally important that long-term solvency be restored, and that Social Security benefits be improved to meet the needs of all Americans.” – Max Richtman, testimony before the House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee, 3/13/19
Richtman re-iterated the National Committee’s support for Congressman Larson’s Social Security 2100 Act, which restores the program’s long-term solvency and boosts benefits.
Advocates from other organizations joined Richtman at the witness table, including Bette Marafino, president of the Connecticut Alliance of Retired Americans (from Larson’s home state). Marafino related poignant stories of Connecticut residents who would fall into poverty without Social Security. She recalled how her own grandmother was “glad to receive my grandfather’s Social Security check, because it literally kept her out of the poor house.”
“The traditional three-legged stool of pension, personal savings, and social security is deteriorating. The ‘pension’ leg of stool has been disappearing, eroding retirement security and making Social Security even more important. Along with the high cost of prescription drugs putting pressure on seniors’ finances, (these factors make) the need to increase Social Security benefits urgent.” – Betty Marafino, president, Connecticut Alliance of Retired Americans, 3/13/19
Abigail Zapote, Director of Latinos for a Secure Retirement, told the subcommittee that boosting benefits is crucial to the Latino population, whose average Social Security checks are lower than other Americans’.
Joan Entmacher, Senior fellow at the National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI), testified that Social Security expansion would help address the inherent disadvantages that women face in retirement. She pointed out that the average retirement benefit for women is only 80% of men’s, making women even more reliant on Social Security.
Entmacher advocated the creation of caregiver credits for people (the majority of whom are women) who take time off of work to care for family members, so that their future retirement benefits are boosted. Congressman Larson’s bill does not include caregiver credits, but legislation to be re-introduced this year by Rep. Nita Lowey (R-NY) would provide more than $20,000 in annual credits to full-time family caregivers, which the National Committee also supports.
Republicans on the subcommittee, now in the minority for the first time in 8 years, appeared less combative than in the past.
“This was a richer dialogue about the philosophical differences about Social Security than we’ve had in a long time,” observed National Committee legislative director, Dan Adcock. “There was a quest to figure out what each side could live with.”
On the other hand, Republicans seemed to reject any benefit enhancements paid for by new revenues. (The Larson bill would adjust the payroll tax cap so that the wealthy pay their fair share, and raises the payroll tax by a modest 1.2% over more than 20 years.)
“The Republicans say they love the program, but they don’t want to pay for it. Instead, they would address Social Security’s solvency through large benefit cuts.” – Dan Adcock, NCPSSM Director of Government Relations and Policy
In fact, subcommittee Republicans harkened back to legislation offered by former chairman Sam Johnson (R-TX) which would have cut Social Security benefits by a whopping 30%. Congressman Drew Ferguson (R-GA) asked Max Richtman what part of the Johnson bill the National Committee could support.
“Nothing,” replied Richtman.