As we commemorate Social Security’s 84th anniversary, lawmakers are working to reverse a brazen attempt by the Trump administration to undermine the rights of Social Security disability claimants. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Susan Collins (R-ME) have introduced a bipartisan bill protecting the independence of the administrative law judges (ALJs) who preside over disability insurance appeals. The ALJ Competitive Service Restoration Act is a companion bill to legislation introduced by Rep. Elijah Cummings in the House. Last year, President Trump issued an executive order creating the opportunity for ALJs to be chosen based on their political beliefs instead of more time-honored, objective criteria.
“Administrative law judges perform very important roles for Social Security cases, and it’s essential that they remain independent and not politically influenced in making decisions… They should be knowledgeable about the subject area they’re overseeing and without any conflict of interest.” – Sen. Maria Cantwell
The Senators’ bill effectively overturns Trump’s executive order by moving AJLs back into “competitive service,” ensuring that they are chosen based on their qualifications – unlike political appointees who are not subject to the same criteria. The National Committee supports the new legislation out of concern that politically-appointed ALJs might deny claimants benefits based on ideology rather than the merits of the case.
The executive order is part of an effort to undermine Social Security Disability Insurance itself. The administration’s proposed 2019 budget included more than $64 billion in cuts to SSDI. And Budget Director Mick Mulvaney has argued (disingenuously) that SSDI is not really part of Social Security – a verbal sleight of hand designed to exempt the program from candidate Trump’s repeated promises not to cut Social Security.
Like Social Security retirement and Medicare, SSDI is an earned benefit. Workers can’t collect disability unless they have paid into Social Security for a required amount of time. By various means, the Trump administration is trying to cut benefits that rightfully belong to workers.
This is in keeping with the administration’s insensitivity – some would say cruelty – toward vulnerable populations, including disabled workers. Claimants apply for SSDI because they cannot work due to serious mental or physical disabilities. These include:
* Musculoskeletal problems
* Cardiovascular conditions
* Vision and hearing loss
* MS, cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s disease, and epilepsy
* Depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia
* HIV/AIDS, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis
Even so, eligibility standards are stringent. Only about 40% of SSDI applications are approved. Claimants who are denied benefits can request a hearing before an administrative law judge. Because Congress chronically underfunded SSA operations from 2010-2017, wait times for disability hearings escalated – up to two years in some cases. Thousands of claimants have died waiting for hearings.
The National Committee believes it’s imperative that once a worker finally receives a hearing, the presiding administrative law judge be fair and impartial, and not politically motivated. The president’s order sabotages that expectation; the Senators’ bill would guarantee a fair process for the millions of Americans whose disabilities prevent them from working.
National Committee president Max Richtman released the following statement today, on the 54th anniversary of the Medicare:
“At the same time as we celebrate the anniversary of a program that has provided generations of seniors with health care they could not otherwise access or afford, we are keenly aware of the growing needs of older Americans today. When President Lyndon Johnson signed Medicare into law on July 30, 1965, he probably could not have imagined the oppressive health care costs that seniors now face — even with the solid foundation of Medicare under their feet. Seniors spend an average 40 percent of their Social Security income on health care, including copays, deductibles, and premiums. Meanwhile, half of all Medicare beneficiaries have an annual income below $26,200. We’ve heard far too many stories of retirees foregoing vital health services or rationing medications because they can’t meet soaring costs, often with fatal results. After 54 years, Medicare still does not cover most dental, vision, or hearing care expenses, though those can easily amount to thousands of dollars per year. The Congress should move legislation already introduced to add those crucial coverages. Lawmakers could also relieve the burden of crushing prescription drug prices by allowing Medicare to negotiate directly with Big Pharma. But the pharmaceutical industry’s allies in Washington have so far impeded this commonsense proposal. Last year, voters spoke loudly and clearly about the need to improve our health care system, delivering a new majority in the U.S. House. There are legislative remedies at the ready to strengthen Medicare for the nearly 60 million Americans who depend on their earned Medicare benefits. Seniors should not have to wait until the program’s next anniversary for the coverage and cost-relief they so desperately need today.” – Max Richtman, president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, 7/30/19
National Committee president Max Richtman is urging the House Ways and Means Committee to boost Social Security — and keep the system financially sound for the rest of the century — as it takes up the Social Security 2100 Act. The bill, introduced by Congressman John Larson (D-CT), receives its first full committee hearing today after years of inaction by the former House majority. In his testimony to the committee, Richtman emphasizes that the National Committee enthusiastically endorses the bill on behalf of its millions of members and supporters.
“Congressman Larson’s Social Security 2100 Act is exactly what current and future seniors need. It will put the program on a financially healthy track, cut taxes for many beneficiaries, and provide a modest, but much needed, boost in benefits. This legislation undercuts conservative propaganda that Social Security is ‘going bankrupt’ – and safeguards the system’s long-term future without cutting benefits, raising the retirement age, or imposing more miserly cost-of-living adjustments.” – Max Richtman, president of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.
The bill assures that Social Security remains fully funded for more than 75 years, while expanding the program in significant ways:
*An across-the-board increase for all beneficiaries of about 2 percent of the average benefit.
*Adoption of the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly (CPI-E), which more accurately reflects the true impact of inflation on retirees than the current formula.
*Tax relief for many Social Security beneficiaries.
*An increase in the special minimum benefit so that it equals up to 125 percent of the federal poverty level.
Congressman Larson says the bill will be marked-up in September, and could come to the House floor for a vote this Fall. The legislation was first introduced in 2014, but did not even receive a hearing under GOP control. The new House majority has given the Social Security 2100 Act new life. The bill has more than 210 cosponsors, nearly a majority of House members.
“By passing this bill, the House can give retirees, the disabled, and their dependents a much-needed pay raise at a time of rapidly escalating living expenses… and reassure Americans that Social Security will be there for them in the future, stronger than ever.” – Max Richtman
The enhanced benefits and fiscal guarantees in the Social Security 2100 Act would be paid for in two ways: 1) By adjusting the FICA payroll income cap so that high-earners would contribute to the system on income above $400,000; 2) By slowly raising the FICA payroll tax paid by employees 1.2% over the next 24 years – or about 50 cents extra per week for the average wage earner.
Rep. Larson likes to remind audiences that the small increase in payroll contributions over more than two decades is a good deal for workers. “Is there any other ‘tax’ where you get disability, spousal, and pension benefits?,” he asks. The answer, of course, is a definitive “No.”
Read Max Richtman’s written testimony here.
During the first round of Democratic debates on MSBNC in June, the candidates were not asked a single question about Social Security. That’s somewhat mind-boggling given the 63 million Americans who currently rely on the program – and the pressing need to strengthen Social Security’s finances for the future. National Committee president Max Richtman has sent a letter to the moderators of the upcoming Democratic debates on CNN urging them to include the topic of Social Security:
“I am fairly certain that I was not alone in wondering why there was no question posed to the candidates about the future of our nation’s most successful income security program. [Social Security] deserves to be the focus of at least one meaningful question during the next Democratic Presidential Primary Debate this month.” – Max Richtman, president of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare
In the letter to CNN’s Dana Bash, Don Lemon, and Jake Tapper, Richtman points out that there are almost as many workers covered by Social Security (175 million) as there are Americans registered to vote (188 million). He also reminds the moderators of the approximately $1.6 trillion in stimulus that Social Security provides state and local economies every year.
Richtman believes it is especially important for the candidates to state their views on Social Security given the need to address the program’s financial future. He suggests a specific question for the moderators to pose during the debates that cuts to the core of that issue:
“Social Security will experience a funding shortfall in 2035 when the Trust Funds are scheduled to run out, triggering an automatic 20% benefit cut for all recipients. There are many proposals and ideas to address the shortfall to ensure that full benefits continue to be paid now and well into the future. As President, will you put forward a proposal to extend the program’s solvency and, if so, will you choose to do this using benefit cuts or revenue increases?”
The National Committee hopes that all of the Democratic candidates favor revenue increases over benefit cuts, and are willing to support legislation like the Social Security 2100 Act. Rep. John Larson’s bill would keep Social Security fully solvent for the rest of the century while modestly boosting benefits, mostly by asking the wealthy to pay their fair share in payroll contributions.
The line-up for the July 30th and 31st debates in Detroit will feature the same candidates as the June debates in Miami, with two exceptions. Rep. Eric Swalwell dropped out of the race earlier this month, while Montana Governor Steve Bullock has earned a spot on the July debate stage.
Ten candidates will appear at each debate, based on a drawing tonight at 8 p.m. on CNN. Politico reported today that CNN and the Democratic National Committee are working to avoid a “pile-up” of top-tier candidates during either debate by dividing participants into three tiers based on polling popularity, then drawing names randomly from each tier.
Regardless of how the candidates are divvied up, Max Richtman says voters deserve their “full consideration and discussion” of Social Security, a program that is “large, successful and beneficial to Americans and to our country’s economic engine.”
Read Max Richtman’s letter to the debate moderators here.
The National Committee is actively pushing back against conservative propaganda about Social Security aimed squarely at Millennials. In June, NCPSSM released a video refuting Rep. Dan Crenshaw’s comments at a recent Congressional hearing, in which he perpetuated some of the most pernicious myths about young adults and Social Security. Last week, Truthout published an op-ed by NCPSSM president Max Richtman entitled, “We Must Fight to Preserve Social Security for Millennials.”
If you’re a Millennial, you may have been led to believe that you have a better chance of seeing a UFO or Bigfoot than receiving a Social Security check. In a recent survey, some 80 percent of Millennials are concerned that they won’t be able to receive any Social Security benefits upon retirement. – National Committee president Max Richtman, Truthout, 7/5/19
Dividing the generations has long been an arrow in the quiver of Social Security’s opponents. In 1983, the libertarian Cato Institute laid the foundation in a seminal article, “Achieving Social Security Reform: A Leninist Strategy.”
“First, we must recognize that there is a firm coalition behind the present Social Security system, and that this coalition has been very effective in winning political concessions for many years. Before Social Security can be reformed, we must begin to divide this coalition and cast doubt on the picture of reality it presents to the general public.” – CATO Institute, 1983
The most recent iteration of this “Leninist Strategy” is to divide Millennials and seniors using a combination of misinformation and fearmongering. The key propaganda points are all too familiar by now:
*Social Security won’t be there for Millennials when they retire because the system is going “bankrupt.”
*It’s unfair that Millennials “support the older generations” through Social Security payroll contributions.
*Millennials would be better off investing their payroll contributions in the stock market.
The Truthout op-ed and the video encourage Millennials to reject the conservative disinformation campaign. They emphasize that Social Security is not going bankrupt and can be put on a sound financial footing for the rest of the century without benefit cuts. In fact, Social Security can be modestly expanded for the seniors of today and tomorrow. (See Rep. John Larson’s Social Security 2100 Act.)
Social Security is a compact between the generations that has worked for almost 85 years and will continue to provide Americans with baseline financial security in the future. Privatizing workers’ earned benefits by investing payroll contributions on Wall Street is a colossally bad idea. Look no further than the crash of 2008 to understand why. Furthermore, as Max Richtman points out, many people forget that Social Security is much more than a retirement income program. It also provides disability, spousal and survivor’s benefits to people of all ages, including young adults.
“The average worker with a spouse and two children would have to purchase more than $600,000 in life and disability insurance to replace the protections Social Security provides. In fact, some 1.2 million millennials already receive Social Security benefits.” – Max Richtman, Truthout, 7/5/19
The Urban Institute reports that the average Millennial will receive $1,000,000 in Social Security retirement benefits – about 200% of what today’s beneficiaries collect. And with two-thirds of Millennials having saved nothing for retirement, they likely will need every penny to stay out of poverty during their senior years.
For all of these reasons, the National Committee is urging Millennials to ignore conservative myths and rally around the Social Security program. “Join your parents and grandparents in protecting Social Security as if your financial well-being depends on it,” writes Richtman. “Because it does.”