[The Hill] I’m one of the youngest Millennials, born in 1995. Every day, I work to organize young people to take back our government by electing leaders who will fight for our future instead of for corporate donors. That includes fighting to expand, never cut, Social Security’s modest benefits.
Wall Street and its allies have spent decades attempting to convince my generation that Social Security won’t be there for us—but that’s not true. In fact, Millennials and Gen Zs will rely on our Social Security system even more than our parents and grandparents do.
As long as people are working, Social Security can pay out benefits. It is true that in about 16 years, if Congress does nothing, Social Security will only be able to pay out about 80 percent of promised benefits. That’s definitely something that needs to be addressed—but it’s not a crisis, and it’s certainly not a reason to scrap the powerful economic security system we’ve built over the past 84 years. Instead, we must address wealth inequality and increase retirement security for all generations by giving our system a tune-up.
Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.) and over 200 House Democrats have a plan: the Social Security 2100 Act. The 2100 Act would ensure that young people today get our fully earned benefits when we retire.
[Center on Budget and Policy Priorities] This summer’s budget deal between President Trump and congressional leaders offers enough total discretionary dollars to give the Social Security Administration (SSA) a much-needed funding boost in 2020, but the Senate majority plans to cut $2.7 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars from the appropriations bill that funds SSA operations. That bill, in turn, would reduce SSA funding by more than 2 percent in inflation-adjusted terms. The companion House bill would slightly increase SSA funding, but by barely enough to offset inflation in 2020 — and not nearly enough to offset years of underfunding before then. For SSA to provide high-quality service to a growing population, policymakers must boost funding substantially.
SSA’s years of cuts have taken their toll. From 2010 to 2019, its
operating budget fell nearly 11 percent in inflation-adjusted terms —
even as the number of Social Security beneficiaries grew by 17 percent.
(See chart.) As a result, SSA has lost 12 percent of its staff since
2010, hampering its ability to perform its essential services, such as
determining eligibility in a timely manner for retirement, survivor, and
disability benefits; paying benefits accurately and on time; responding
to questions from the public; and updating benefits promptly when
As workloads and costs have grown — and budgets and staffing have shrunk — SSA’s service delivery has worsened:
to SSA’s national 800 number don’t get their questions resolved; as
callers are on hold for longer periods, nearly half hang up before
connecting. And a growing number get busy signals.
Due to understaffing, field office wait times have risen in every region of the country since 2010, with millions of visitors waiting longer than an hour.
SSA has been forced to close 67 field offices and shorten office hours in the rest, making it harder for taxpayers and beneficiaries to access service.
The average wait for a disability appeal is 16 months, causing hardship for hundreds of thousands of workers already struggling with a life-changing disability.
SSA has stopped mailing Social Security statements to most workers as legally required, citing budget constraints.
Millions of beneficiaries await benefit adjustments due to the agency’s backlog
on its behind-the-scenes work, such as awarding benefits to widows when
spouses die, issuing back payments, resolving complex claims issues,
and adjusting benefits for early retirees and disabled workers with
earnings. Some 3.2 million of these actions are pending, causing
unnecessary hardship — and often overpayments.
SSA’s extremely tight budgets have been driven by two factors: (1)
the 2011 Budget Control Act’s tight annual caps on total discretionary
funding, and (2) policymakers’ failure to give SSA its fair share of
funding increases from past budget deals that raised those caps on a
temporary basis. For example, the budget deal
for 2018 provided a 9 percent increase in non-defense discretionary
(NDD) funding from the previous year in inflation-adjusted terms, but
SSA’s budget rose only 2 percent. NDD spending rose nearly 1 percent in
inflation-adjusted terms in 2019, but policymakers cut SSA’s budget by
almost 2 percent, which helped convince SSA Commissioner Andrew Saul to
impose a partial hiring freeze.
Annual funding bills for the departments of Labor, Health and Human
Services, and Education, which also include SSA’s administrative budget,
have faced large cuts since 2010. The President and Congress should
provide sufficient funding in the final 2020 appropriations bill to
cover SSA’s essential services.
[Washington Post] Poorer Americans are much less likely to survive into their 70s and 80s than rich Americans, a stark life-expectancy divide compounded by the nation’s growing disparities in wealth, according to a federal report.
The report finds that while average life expectancy increased over that period, it “has not increased uniformly across all income groups, and people who have lower incomes tend to have shorter lives than those with higher incomes.”
“Over time, the top fifth of the income distribution is really becoming a lot wealthier — and so much of the health and wealth gains in America are going toward the top,” said Harold Pollack, a health-care expert at the University of Chicago who was not involved in the creation of the report. “In these fundamental areas — life expectancy, health — there are these growing disparities that are really a failure of social policy.”
Watch out, older Americans and people with disabilities! President Trump just announced a plan to give corporate health insurers more control over your health care. His new executive order calls for “market-based” pricing, which would drive up costs for everyone with Medicare, eviscerate traditional Medicare, and steer more people into for-profit “Medicare Advantage” plans.
Seema Verma, the Trump appointee who heads the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), may not have warned Trump about the slew of government audits revealing that many Medicare Advantage plans pose “an imminent and serious risk to the health of… enrollees.” They also overcharge taxpayers to the tune of $10 billion a year.
Last month, Senators Sherrod Brown, Amy Klobuchar, Chris Murphy, Richard Blumenthal, Bernie Sanders and Debbie Stabenow laid out several serious malfeasances by these corporate Medicare insurers — including UnitedHealth Group, Aetna, Cigna and Humana — in a detailed letter they sent to Verma.
The insurers’ wrongdoings are systematic. They are ongoing. They endanger the health and financial well-being of millions of people. They undermine the financial integrity of the Medicare program and harm the U.S. Treasury. Yet, to date, CMS has failed to develop, let alone execute, a plan to hold these insurers accountable for violating their legal obligations and to ensure their members get the health care to which they are entitled.
If you think that the best way to fix Social Security’s long-run financial shortfall is to cut benefits, the agency’s report shows ways Congress could do that. If you think that the way to close the long-term funding gap is to raise taxes while maintaining benefits, you will find a couple of dozen ways to do that, too. If you think that Social Security should give benefit credits to those who stay home to care for children, the elderly or people with disabilities, or that the very old should receive additional benefits because they suffer from higher poverty rates than the not-so-old, this is the place to go for a menu of ways to do those things and make a lot of other changes that you might not have thought of.
You’ll learn what those measures cost or save. You’ll be able to read brief and understandable explanations of each of them. The options come with color charts that show graphically how each change would affect Social Security’s finances. And, if you can’t tell the program without the players, you’ll be able to see which member of Congress or organization proposed them.
This is must-read material for anyone paying attention to the Democratic candidate debates now — or later, to the debates between the Republican and Democratic nominees. Understanding what the candidates propose to do about the nation’s No. 1 domestic program could help you decide which candidate you support.
[CBPP] At some point in their lives, most workers in the United States will experience a major life event or emergency requiring them to take time off work, such as a serious illness, the birth of a child, or caregiving responsibilities for an aging parent. A national, comprehensive paid family leave policy that is responsibly financed would provide much-needed economic support to workers during these times and ensure equitable access to paid leave for low-income people and people of color, who often do not have significant paid leave from their employers.
However, two recent paid leave proposals — the New Parents Act from Senators Marco Rubio and Mitt Romney and the CRADLE Act from Senators Joni Ernst and Mike Lee — fall short of this standard in important ways:
Unlike the paid leave programs of several pioneering states (and the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, which provides for unpaid leave), both bills would provide paid leave only to parents caring for newborn or newly adopted children, leaving out workers who need to care for their own serious health issues or those of a family member.
Instead of pooling risks and resources across the entire workforce, as the rest of Social Security and the state paid family and medical leave programs do, these bills would ask individual parents to bear the cost of their parental leave benefits by cutting the Social Security retirement benefits they would receive decades later. This would weaken Social Security’s near-universal social insurance protection by treating the program’s guaranteed benefits like a private account from which individuals could draw. Essentially, both bills ask parents to choose between their current caregiving needs and their future retirement security.
Using Social Security partly as a piggy bank rather than an insurance policy is central to the design of these proposals. Carrie Lukas, president of the Independent Women’s Forum — which first developed this approach — has written that getting workers to see Social Security as assets “to be used now or at retirement” is a first step toward partially privatizing Social Security.
Moreover, under the two bills, parents opting for parental leave would face permanent cuts to their Social Security retirement benefits that would ultimately exceed their parental leave benefits. The cuts would amount to their parental leave benefits plus interest, as well as an additional reduction to cover the cost of the parental benefits provided to other parents who die or become disabled before they reach retirement and can’t repay their own leave benefits. Leave-taking parents with moderate incomes, for example, would receive about $5,300 in benefits for each three months of parental leave, on average — and then lose about $15,100 in lifetime retirement benefits for each three months of leave, after adjusting for inflation, according to the Urban Institute. All told, this amounts to losing about 3 to 4 percent of lifetime Social Security retirement benefits for each three months of leave, meaning that parents who take three periods of parental leave (after three births or adoptions) would lose roughly one-tenth of their lifetime Social Security retirement benefits.
Under both bills, parental leave benefits would essentially be treated like loans that accrue interest. For a typical worker who has her first child at age 26 and claims Social Security retirement benefits at about 65, interest would accrue for about 40 years. Over such a long period, the amount of interest would ultimately exceed the amount of the benefit; in fact, the Urban Institute estimates that leave-takers would eventually pay back nearly four times as much as they received in leave benefits, on average. These cuts would weaken retirement security and impose the greatest hardship on women and workers of color, as they already face less secure retirement than others.
At a time when many workers face shaky finances in retirement, policymakers shouldn’t weaken Social Security, which is most workers’ only source of guaranteed retirement income. Policymakers can provide paid leave without asking parents to sacrifice some of their retirement security. In fact, that’s what every existing state program does, by financing benefits with modest payroll tax contributions. It’s also what the overwhelming majority of workers prefer: when polled about the best funding mechanism for a national paid family and medical leave policy, just 3 percent of voters preferred drawing from the Social Security trust funds.
Future proposals should not force workers to choose between the paid leave they need and their hard-earned retirement security, but should instead finance a national paid family and medical leave program through modest payroll tax contributions or other sources of revenue. A broad-based financing mechanism would recognize that paid leave programs are an asset not only to those taking leave, but also to society at large.
Hiltzik correctly notes that “all three proposals take aim at some of the same issues, such as the chronic shortchanging of women who spend their career years caring for dependents at home and the need to extract more tax support from the wealthiest Americans, but offer somewhat different solutions.”
Even with their differences, all three plans are “a solid rebuff to Republicans and conservatives whose hand-wringing about Social Security leads to proposals to cut benefits. Warren’s entry into the lists as a presidential candidate ensures that the debate will take place in the public sphere — not, as Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) advocated recently, ‘behind closed doors.'”