Members of Congress heard from some genuine experts on Social Security – older Americans who have to survive on their benefit checks each and every month. The seniors appeared via video at a hearing of the House Ways & Means Social Security subcommittee, chaired by Rep. John Larson (D-CT). Congressman Larson is the primary force behind Social Security reform on Capitol Hill, championing the strengthening of the program and expansion of benefits. His Social Security 2100 Act would do both, though he reportedly is reworking the legislation to better align with President Biden’s proposals in this area.
The witnesses at the hearing – all retirees from different parts of the country – spoke earnestly and often passionately about the challenges of making ends meet on their current Social Security benefits, while expressing gratitude for the program which has kept seniors out of poverty for more than 85 years.
Julian Blair Retired, U.S. Military Washington, D.C.
“I started contributing to Social Security when I was 15 years old, working a summer job. Social Security is a critical part of my income. But though I paid into it my whole working life, my Social Security benefit is far too low to cover my monthly expenses. It is beyond time for Congress to get behind expanding, not cutting, our invaluable benefits. No one will get rich if you increase Social Security, but it will allow us to live with dignity.”
Elba Lopez Retired Seamstress Philadelphia, PA
“I am a widow and I rely on Social Security as a major source of income. But it doesn’t pay enough for electricity, gas, food, rent, insurance and clothing. I’m lucky that my daughter can help me financially, but I don’t want to be a burden. An increase in my Social Security income would allow me to be more independent. It would give me peace of mind, knowing that I could meet my basic needs after all those years of working.”
Cora McDonnell Retired Shipping Clerk Seattle, WA
“My husband passed away in 1994. I also was laid off after 14 years on the job at Airborne Express. Without Social Security widow’s benefits, I could not have survived. I would have been homeless and unable to take care of my son, who suffers from ulcerative colitis. Social Security paid the bills, put food on the table for me and my son and a roof over our head. It was essential to me as a widow and single mother. I do wonder, though, why benefits have not changed in the past 50 years.”
Kitty Ruderman Retiree Queens, NY
“Social Security is by far the bulk of my income. I need every penny to make ends meet, and even that isn’t enough. My rent alone exceeds my monthly Social Security payment. In previous years, I could supplement my retirement income by taking on extra work, but that has become increasingly difficult due to my crippling arthritis. This has left me even more reliant on Social Security and even more concerned about the future of the program. I urge Congress to ensure Social Security stays strong for generations to come.”
The witnesses’ testimony buttressed Rep. Larson’s argument that Social Security benefits must be boosted to meet retirees’ actual needs, including a fairer formula for calculating cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs). He pointed out that the average Social Security benefit of roughly $18,500 a year is only slightly above the federal poverty line, and that some people’s benefits are below it. “Who could live on that?” he asked.
The Congressman emphasized the importance of Congress taking bold action on Social Security now, instead of “kicking the can down the road.” Benefits have not been increased in 50 years, Larson said. And the last time that Social Security was strengthened, he reminded the committee, was in 1983.
Ranking Republican Tom Reed (R-NY) called for more incremental measures to establish bipartisan “trust” on the issue – and to lay a foundation for major changes later. Committee member Rep. Tom Rice (R-SC) said that both Republicans and Democrats want “to enhance benefits for all retirees,” yet Rice and many other GOP members of Congress cosponsored a bill from the subcommittee’s former Chairman, Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX), that would have raised the retirement age to 69, a drastic benefit cut.
Other Republicans have called for “entitlements” to be “reformed” (code word for ‘cut’) in the wake of the deficit-swelling Trump/GOP tax cuts, even though Social Security does not contribute to the federal deficit.
Congressman Larson said a vote on comprehensive Social Security legislation is “long overdue.” His Social Security 2100 Act would extend the solvency of the trust fund until nearly the end of the century, boost benefits across the board by 2%, and provide for a more generous COLA formula. “There is an opportunity to have people vote and be counted and show what they stand for,” he said. “That would be a real profile in courage.”