Social Security must be expanded and strengthened now. That was the message National Committee president Max Richtman delivered in testimony today before the House Ways and Means Social Security subcommittee, chaired by Rep. John Larson (D-CT). This was the first and possibly only hearing on Congressman Larson’s Social Security 2100: A Sacred Trust legislation, which would boost benefits and extend the solvency of the program’s trust fund.

“The last major Social Security reform was almost four decades ago and the value of some of its benefits have eroded.  Enactment of the Social Security 2100: A Sacred Trust would provide critical financial support to millions of your constituents, helping them afford their medications and put food on the table…” – Max Richtman, NCPSSM president, 12/7/21 

Congressman Larson’s bill would give all beneficiaries a 2% benefit increase, improve the formula for calculating COLAs (cost-of-lving adjustments), and enhance benefits for especially vulnerable groups – including widows and widowers, the lowest income earners, and the ‘oldest of the old’ (seniors 85 and over).

The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare endorsed Rep. Larson’s bill when he introduced it in October, believing that current benefits and COLAs are inadequate for today’s seniors.  Even before COVID pummeled America’s senior population, too many older Americans were struggling to keep their heads above water financially in the face of rising costs for everything from health care to prescription drugs to housing.  “Five million seniors are living in poverty in wealthiest nation in world,” said Rep. Larson.

At the same time, two of the legs in the old ‘three-legged stool’ of retirement security – pensions and retirement savings – are dwindling, leaving Social Security as the main source of income for nearly half of all retirees.

“The nation is facing a retirement income crisis. Social Security is the most important source of retirement income, last expanded when Richard Nixon was president. A vote on Social Security 2100 will begin to restore the intangible, but essential benefit of retirement security which too many Americans have lost.” – Nancy Altman, President, Social Security Works  

The “Sacred Trust” bill would raise revenue for the program by adjusting the payroll wage cap so that high income earners begin to pay their fair share.  The cap is currently set at $142,800 in annual wages. The bill would re-impose payroll taxes at $400,000 in annual income and above, bringing billions of dollars in new revenue into the system. If Congress fails to act, the Social Security trust fund will become depleted in 2034.

Amy Matsui of the National Women’s Law Center testifies during Tuesday’s hearing.

Other witnesses at today’s hearing spoke of the importance of expanding Social Security for women and minority communities. Amy Matsui, Director of Income Security at the National Women’s Law Center, pointed out that “the cumulative impact of a lifetime of economic disparities decreases women’s retirement security.”  She said that the lifetime earnings of black and Latino women is typically lower than other women’s, translating into lower Social Security benefits.

Yanira Cruz, President and CEO of the National Hispanic Council on Aging, testified that Latinos, in particular, would benefit from the Social Security 2100: A Sacred Trust:

“Many Hispanics are among the working poor… and they depend on Social Security for economic security after a lifetime of hard work. They tend to work in jobs that pay lower wages and are less likely to have pension coverage.  Social Security is the sole source of income for more than 40% of Hispanic seniors.” – Yanira Cruz, President & CEO, NHCOA 

Yanira Cruz of the National Hispanic Council on Aging

While paying lip service to preserving Social Security, Republican witnesses argued that Rep. Larson’s bill is unnecessary and overly broad, claiming that most seniors are financially secure and don’t need better benefits.  They claimed that improving Social Security would harm the economy, when, in fact, the program provides more than one trillion dollars in economic stimulus every year. Andrew Biggs of the American Enterprise Institute testified that it would be better to cut benefits (mainly by raising the retirement age) and privatize Social Security than to enact Rep. Larson’s bill.

Congressman Larson fired back, saying that conservatives are suggesting that the country would be better off without Social Security.  He accused Republicans of wanting to “dismantle Social Security brick by brick,” which he said would be “devastating to the American people.” 

“That is not where the American people are. They know Social Security has strengthened the fabric of this nation and will continue to do so as long as Congress acts.” – Rep. John Larson, Chairman of the House Ways & Means Social Security subcommittee, 12/7/21 

Majorities of Americans across party lines support the main provisions of Rep. Larson’s bill, including a benefit boost, improved COLA formula, and adjusting the payroll wage cap. 

Social Security subcommittee chairman John Larson:  “The time to act is now.”

Paraphrasing Dr. Martin Luther King, Congressman Larson, spoke of “the fierce urgency of now,” imploring Congress to take action to boost and strengthen Social Security immediately.  NCPSSM President Max Richtman reinforced the urgency of the situation in his testimony:

“Congress simply cannot sit by and allow millions of our fellow citizens, who worked hard their entire lives, to spend their golden years struggling to get by.  That’s why we urge you to alleviate the suffering of your senior constituents by voting now on Rep. Larson’s bill.” – Max Richtman, President and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare  

The next step for the Social Security 2100: A Sacred Trust bill is a committee markup. After that, Congressman Larson hopes the legislation will move quickly to the House floor for a vote.  He wants members of Congress to go on record as having voted for – or against – improving Americans’ earned benefits. At today’s hearing, Republican members of the Social Security subcommittee pledged to vote against the bill in its current form.

Read Max Richtman’s complete written testimony here.