More than 150 Philadelphians turned out at Center in the Park for a town hall emphasizing Social Security’s importance to the Black community, co-presented by NCPSSM and AARP Pennsylvania. Attendees learned about their earned benefits and played Social Security-themed games — including Social Security Plinko and “What does Social Security Mean to You?”

The event featured a public forum with panelists Max Richtman (NCPSSM President), Carolyn Colvin (former Social Security Commissioner), and representatives from Community Legal Services of Philadelphia. The town hall portion was moderated by Philadelphia radio personality Frankie Darcell of WDAS-FM.

Attendees included near-seniors (aged 55-65) and workers who have already retired. “I learned many things, from beginning to end,” said Lue D., a retired pharmaceutical manager, who says she appreciated the forum’s debunking of Social Security myths and misinformation. “It reinforced to me that we need the truth about Social Security in order to talk about it more intelligently out in the community.”

Attendees watch the panel discussion on the importance of Social Security

During the public forum, National Committee president and CEO Max Richtman corrected several harmful Social Security myths:

*Social Security is not going bankrupt;

*The trust fund is not full of “worthless IOUs”

*Politicians are not ‘stealing’ from Social Security;

*Undocumented immigrants are not draining the system’s finances.

Without naming names, Richtman said that myths and misinformation “are designed to undermine the support and faith that Americans have in Social Security” by those who wish to cut and privatize the program. Fortunately, he said, “the polling we’ve seen shows 80-90% support for Social Security across the board.”

L-R, Panelists Allison Schilling, Sarah Martinez, Carolyn Colvin, and Max Richtman

The benefit to Black families was a major theme of the forum’s panel discussion. Ava, a retiree in the audience, said that she “hadn’t understood how Social Security helps families” until she attended the event.

Former Social Security Commissioner Colvin (who ran the program under President Obama) explained that, on average, Black workers  become disabled earlier and live fewer years than others.  Social Security, she said, provides families with disability, spousal, and survivor’s benefits. “The Social Security benefits available to families is extremely important,” Colvin told the audience. “Social Security guarantees benefits for various stages of family experience.”

Former Social Security Commissioner Carolyn Colvin speaks at the town hall

Colvin pointed out that Black retirees rely on Social Security more than their white counterparts, due to job and wage discrimination and other socioeconomic factors. Without Social Security, 50.5% of Black retirees would be living in poverty.

Pennsylvania State Senator Art Haywood kicked off the town hall with a passionate statement of support for Social Security. Haywood, who was raised by a single mom and began working at age 9 as a newspaper delivery boy, said that “Social Security was designed to preserve the dignity” of retirees. “That’s why it’s so important to have this forum… to talk in detail about the fact that Social Security is still there for us.”

PA State Senator Art Haywood: Social Security allows workers to retire “with dignity”

Sarah Martinez and Allison Schilling of Community Legal Services of Philadelphia covered the nitty-gritty details of Social Security and the difference between Social Security retirement benefits, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) — including the nuances on how to qualify and apply for each program.

Martinez acknowledged that qualifying for SSDI can be difficult, especially given customer service issues at the fiscally struggling Social Security Administration (SSA). “If you’re denied there’s likely a long appeals process. I’ve seen some of these cases go for years, with multiple appeals. The quickest I’ve seen an SSDI appeal resolved in the claimant’s favor is around one year,” she said. (More than 10,000 claimants have died awaiting a hearing on their SSDI appeals.)

A few hours before the town hall began, President Biden named former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley as permanent commissioner for SSA.  In a press statement, Richtman praised O’Malley for his support of Social Security as a presidential candidate in 2016. “As a confirmed commissioner, Martin O’Malley will be able to advocate effectively for SSA, which has been chronically underfunded and has struggled to provide adequate customer service,” said Richtman.

Representatives from the regional SSA office and the staffs of U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) and Rep. Dwight Evans (D-PA) were on hand to answer attendees’ personal Social Security questions. Audience member Pat Pinkett, who is still working but nearing Social Security retirement age, said she attended the town hall because many people “have no clue about how Social Security really works. I wanted to come to the source and get the facts!”

Philadelphians packed Center in the Park for the NCPSSM/AARP town hall

The Philadelphia town hall was part of a joint NCPSSM-AARP public education campaign entitled, “Social Security: Here Today, Here Tomorrow,” to better inform Americans about the value of the program to workers and their families. The first town hall took place in Richmond, VA in June. The campaign is coming to Lansing, MI, Las Vegas, NV, and Milwaukee, WI between now and October.

Watch a recording of the entire Philadelphia town hall here.

For more information on the town halls, visit the campaign website