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Blog2018-12-17T14:50:12-04:00
1104, 2019

Dems, Advocates Push Hard for Social Security Expansion

By |April 11th, 2019|Boost Social Security, COLAs, Congress, Democrats, Max Richtman, Rep. John Larson, Social Security|

House subcommittee hears testimony on boosting Social Security benefits

National Committee president Max Richtman pushes Social Security expansion at House hearing

Now that the Democrats have control of the U.S. House, Congress is actually holding hearings (under regular order, no less) on boosting Social Security – a topic the GOP-majority House eschewed. Congressman John Larson (D-CT) chaired a hearing of the House Social Security subcommittee Wednesday that made plain the stakes for current and future seniors – and the fundamental disagreement between the two parties about Social Security’s future.

“What the American want and deserve are solutions.  The last time Congress seriously did something about Social Security, Ronald Reagan was President and Tip O’Neill was Speaker. We believe it’s long overdue for us to move forward on this issue.” – Rep. John Larson, 4/10/19

National Committee president Max Richtman joined a panel of witnesses including Diane Stone, director of the Newington, CT senior center from Rep. Larson’s home district; Shaun Castle, a veteran and Deputy Executive Director of Paralyzed Veterans of America; Steven Goss, Chief Actuary of the Social Security program; and Nancy Altman, President of Social Security Works.

Witnesses raised real-life examples of seniors living in the grey zone between true “economic security and poverty” who would be better off under Rep. Larson’s Social Security 2100 Act.

Richtman recognized Nettie Hailes, a National Committee volunteer in the audience who turned 91 on the day of the hearing.  Hailes, whose husband was a Baptist pastor who helped organize Martin Luther King’s March on Washington, depends on Social Security for her income.

91 year-old National Committee volunteer Nettie Hailes relies on Social Security for her income

Max Richtman and National Committee volunteer Nettie Hailes

“After raising four children and working in real estate, Nettie claimed Social Security benefits at age 65. In addition to her own Social Security benefits, Nettie began receiving a survivor benefit after husband’s passing.  She manages her money wisely to pay for her medical expenses, upkeep on her home and property taxes. She is proud to stay within her means but says it’s tough to try and keep up because the cost-of-living is so high.” – NCPSSM President Max Richtman, 4/10/19

Richtman said that the 2% across-the-board benefit increase in Congressman Larson’ bill, while modest, could make a big difference for seniors like Nettie.  A two-percent boost would equal about $300 annually for the average retiree.  So would the improved cost-of-living (COLA) formula in Larson’s legislation – the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly (CPI-E), to help Nettie and other seniors keep pace with inflation.

“This change in the formula for COLAs would effect millions of beneficiaries. It would allow Social Security benefits to keep up with inflation as it really impacts older people. The current formula is flawed. This legislation corrects that.”  – NCPSSM President Max Richtman, 4/10/19

Congressman Larson proposes to pay for enhanced Social Security benefits by adjusting the payroll tax income cap so that earners making more than $400,000 per year would still contribute to Social Security like everyone else – and by raising payroll taxes by 1.2% over 24 years (the equivalent of 50 cents more per week for the average worker).

“It’s an insurance premium, not a tax. That’s why it’s called FICA (Federal Insurance Contribution Act). Is there any other ‘tax’ where you get disability, spousal, and pension benefits?” – Rep. John Larson, 4/10/19

Republicans on the subcommittee voiced general support for Social Security, but rejected any revenue-side solutions to improve benefits or to keep the system solvent.  (Without raising additional revenue, the only other solution to Social Security’s projected shortfalls is to cut benefits – which the National Committee and most Democrats roundly reject.)

Democrats reminded Republicans that seniors cannot afford benefit cuts now or in the future, especially with employer-provided pensions disappearing and at least half of Americans not earning enough to save for retirement.

Subcommittee Democrats says nation can afford to give seniors a benefit boost

House Social Security subcommittee Democrats: We can afford to give seniors a benefit boost.

As Richtman pointed out during an exchange with Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI), boosting Social Security benefits helps not only seniors – but the entire economy.

REP. KILDEE:  Do social security beneficiaries put their earnings away for the future – or do they spend that money?

MAX RICHTMAN:    The spend it and the money goes right into back into the economy.  There’s a multiplier effect. Every dollar spent produces two dollars in economic stimulus.

REP. KILDEE:    So, if we were to increase [benefits], that increase is going to go right back into the American economy and have a stimulus effect.

Social Security’s chief actuary, Steven Goss, affirmed that Congressman Larson’s bill would keep the system on a sound financial footing for at least the next 75 years.  “The Social Security 2100 bill is the only one that does that,” he said, explaining that the legislation not only makes up for the shortfall in projected revenue, but includes enough for the modest benefit boost and some “cushion.”

Richtman testified that Larson’s legislation should help “put to rest” the “steady drumbeat of disinformation” from conservatives that Social Security is “going bankrupt” or won’t be around for future generations. “It will show clearly the program is sound and will be there for the rest of the century,” he said.

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For more on Wednesday’s hearing and Boosting Social Security, watch our Facebook Live broadcast from Capitol Hill


204, 2019

Equal Pay Day Brings Home Long-term Costs of Pay Inequality

By |April 2nd, 2019|Pay Equality, Retirement, women|

Pay Equality Day reminds us that gender pay inequity affects women's retirement security

 

National Equal Pay Day 2019 reminds us that gender pay equity is crucial not only for social justice, but for women’s retirement security.  When women earn less than men (currently, only 80 cents on the dollar), they cannot afford to save sufficient money for retirement – and their Social Security benefits are lower.

In 2016, the average annual Social Security income received by women 65 years and older was $13,891, compared to $17,663 for men. – National Committee Social Security Fact Sheet

Women take more time off work to care for family members, but don’t get credit for it in their Social Security earnings history.  On average, women outlive men by five years – forcing them to stretch their retirement dollars over a longer span of time.   That’s one reason why 11% of senior women live in poverty – an unacceptable number in the wealthiest country on earth.  

Equal Pay Day marks the calendar date when the average woman has earned as much as the average man did the previous year.

“Because women earn less, on average, than men, they must work longer for the same amount of pay. The wage gap is even greater for most women of color.” – National Committee on Pay Equity

According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, African-American women make 64 cents on the dollar of what non-Hispanic white men earn.  The figure drops to 55 cents on the dollar for Latinas.  Not surprisingly, average Social Security benefits for black women are 25% lower than men’s, while Latinas’ are 31% lower.

Though the gender pay gap has closed by 3 percentage points since 2012, America has a long way to go toward wage equality.  Among industrialized nations, the country’s pay inequity level consistently ranks in the top five.  The wage gap is attributable to various forms of gender discrimination – ranging from biases about women’s performance in the workplace to the fact that men are likely to hold higher-ranking, higher paying positions.

Source: American Association of University Women

Given that society has made scant headway on this issue in recent years, it’s clear that women need stronger federal protections against wage inequality. The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare fully endorses the Paycheck Fairness Act, introduced by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT).  Among other things, it would put an end to pay secrecy, strengthen workers’ ability to challenge discrimination, and bring equal pay law into line with other civil rights laws.

“This landmark legislation aims to prevent wage discrimination from happening in the first place.  It will help women and their families now – and in later life when too many women dangle on the precipice of poverty.” – National Committee president and CEO Max Richtman

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For more information on pay inequality and women’s retirement security, visit Eleanor’s Hope.


2803, 2019

Trump Re-Ignites Attacks on Affordable Care Act, Rallies Democrats

By |March 28th, 2019|affordable care act, Congress, Democrats, Election 2018, Medicare, President Trump, Republicans|

President Trump renews assault on the Affordable Care Act

President Trump is at it again.  Two years after promising Americans “something terrific” to replace Obamacare – and failing – the administration has renewed calls for its repeal.  On Monday, the Department of Justice announced its full support of a federal judge’s decision that would eradicate the entire Affordable Care Act.  (The decision is not in force and the case is under appeal). Then, on Tuesday, the president rewarmed his pre-repeal claims that the GOP should be “the party of health care” – catching Republican lawmakers off guard.

“If Trump had told GOP senators of his plans, they say they would have sought to convince him not to throw their party back into a war over health care — the issue Democrats believe was instrumental to their takeover of the House in last year’s midterms.” – The Hill, 3/27/19

Didn’t the White House learn its lesson in 2017 when Republicans tried to ram several ACA repeal bills through Congress, only to fail miserably? The GOP found itself bereft of ideas for actually replacing Obamacare with “something terrific” once they gained control of the White House – after voting more than 60 times to repeal the ACA during the Obama presidency.

Since we haven’t written as much about Obamacare since the GOP repeal effort went down in flames in 2017, let’s recall what’s at stake:

“The ACA touches every part of the health care system — from how Medicare pays doctors to the Medicaid expansion that has covered millions of low income people.” – National Public Radio, 3/26/19.

For older Americans, the Affordable Care Act mitigated the age rating system that allowed insurers to charge them five times as much as younger people. It extended the financial solvency of Medicare and provided for annual wellness visits at no cost to the patient. Obamacare expanded the Medicaid program so that more Americans – including ‘near seniors’ aged 50-64 – were covered.

After the Republicans’ ‘repeal and replace’ efforts failed, the Trump administration committed itself to undermining the Affordable Care Act in myriad other ways, including withholding subsidies, purposely under-promoting the annual open enrollment period, and campaigning for the Trump/GOP tax scheme, which zeroed out the penalty for not obtaining coverage. It was that last act of sabotage upon which the federal judge in Texas ruled that the entire law should be overturned.

United against President Trump’s efforts to destroy the Affordable Care Act, Congressional Democrats have pledged to strengthen it through new legislation.  Speaker Nancy Pelosi unveiled a bill on Tuesday to “lower health insurance premiums, strengthen protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions, and ban the sale of what Democrats call junk insurance,” reports the New York Times.

But with the GOP in control of the Senate and Obamacare’s most virulent opponent sitting in the White House, the Affordable Care Act that helps so many millions of America obtain health coverage will remain under constant threat.


1503, 2019

House Dems Hold First Hearings on Social Security Expansion

By |March 15th, 2019|Congress, Democrats, Max Richtman, Rep. John Larson, Republicans, Social Security|

Congressman John Larson holds hearing on Social Security expansion in U.S. House

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.

National Committee President advocates expanding Social Security before House Ways and Means social security subcommittee

National Committee president Max Richtman testifies before House Social Security subcommittee

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

Congressman Drew Ferguson asks National Committee president whether he would support any part of a GOP bill that would cut Social Security benefits by 30%

Rep. Drew Ferguson (R-GA) questions Max Richtman on GOP bill that would cut Social Security benefits

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.


1203, 2019

Trump 2020 Budget Shortchanges Seniors

By |March 12th, 2019|Boost Social Security, Budget, Democrats, Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, Trump|

President Trump's 2020 budget cuts Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, in defiance of campaign promises

They say that a White House budget is merely a messaging document – especially in an era of divided government. In that case, the Trump administration has sent a grim message to America’s seniors in its 2020 spending proposal.   It goes something like this:  older Americans living on fixed incomes – especially the elderly poor – must get by with less.

“President Trump’s 2020 budget proposal shortchanges seniors, plain and simple.  In combination with 2017’s tax cuts for the wealthy and the administration’s failure to allow Medicare to negotiate with Big Pharma, the Trump budget shows that this administration is not plugged-in to the realities of being elderly in America.” – Max Richtman, National Committee president

Among other things, the White House budget cuts $25 billion from Social Security Disability Insurance, $845 billion from Medicare – and $1.5 trillion from Medicaid.  This is from a President who promised “not to touch” older Americans’ earned benefits. The administration proposes to cut the Social Security Administration’s operating budget by about 1%, at a time when the agency is just beginning to recover from past spending cuts that hobbled customer service.  In addition, the Trump budget flat-lines or eliminates federal grants for several programs that help lower-income seniors – including Meals on Wheels and home heating assistance:

Federal Block Grant Programs that Help Fund Older Americans Act Programs

Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) (HHS)                                Eliminated

Social Service Block Grant (SSBG) (HHS)                                            Eliminated

Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) (HUD)                      Eliminated

Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (HHS)                    Eliminated

The White House offers up these cold-hearted cuts while proposing to hike the Pentagon budget by 4% and demanding $8.6 billion for Trump’s border wall.  Democratic leaders in Congress proclaimed the Trump budget dead on arrival, with good reason.

“President Trump’s budget once again lays out an irresponsible and cynical vision for our country, without any regard for its human cost. It lacks foresight and would leave our nation unable to meet our obligations to the American people.” – Rep. John Yarmuth, (D) House Budget Committee chairman

“Donald Trump promised the American people that he would be a different type of Republican, that he would be a champion of the working American and that he would not cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. But his budget does the exact opposite of what he promised the American people.” – Sen. Bernie Sanders, (I-VT)

Fortunately, momentum is building on Capitol Hill to boost – rather than cut – earned benefits.  Senator Sanders and Rep. John Larson have introduced bills to expand Social Security.  Rep. Debbie Dingell and Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard put forth legislation that would improve Medicare benefits, including dental, vision and hearing coverage.  The Democratic majority in the House will work to protect Medicaid from cuts threatened by the White House and GOP, including the program’s expansion under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  (The Trump budget would repeal the ACA and eliminate Medicaid expansion.)

If the prevailing political winds are blowing in the direction of expanded benefits and away from cruel cuts, why worry about a White House budget that has no chance of enactment?  The 2020 Trump spending proposal serves as a warning of what the administration would do if it were not for the firewall known as the Democratic-led House of Representatives.  These draconian ideas – though rejected by voters in the 2018 mid-terms – remain in the conservative political bloodstream, requiring continued advocacy on the part of seniors and their champions in Congress.