Earlier this week, I posted a story titled The Attempted Theft of Medicare. That done, today it is time for a Social Security update – especially since the Board of Trustees released its annual report (pdf) on the status of the trust funds earlier this month.
The full report is 269 pages. If that is as daunting to you as it was to me, here is a one-page highlight version.
First, some facts to keep in mind about Old-Age and Survivors Insurance, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) which is the official name of Social Security:
⚫ According to the Social Security Administration, 43 percent of single Social Security recipients who are 65 or older and 21 percent of those who are married, rely on their checks for 90 percent or more of their income
⚫ In 2016, the combined number of beneficiaries of OASDI was about 61 million
⚫ It cost $6.2 billion to administer the Social Security program in 2016, just 0.7 percent of total expenditures - (a bargain)
Republicans have been trying to kill Social Security since President Roosevelt signed the bill into law in 1935 and now that they own all three branches of government, the current assault on Medicaid and Obamacare are only their first targets.
Their attacks usually start with the lie that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are “entitlements.” Too many people believe that but every penny comes of worker contributions (and interest on that money). These social programs are “earned benefits” and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
Keeping the focus on Social Security today, Republicans also repeatedly tell us that OASDI is unsustainable. Here are a few facts addressing that lie according to this newest Trustees Report:
⚫ The asset reserves of the combined OASDI Trust Funds increased by $35 billion in 2016 to a total of $2.85 trillion.
⚫ The combined trust fund reserves are still growing and will continue to do so through 2021. Beginning in 2022, the total annual cost of the program is projected to exceed income – the shortfall covered by reserves.
⚫ Reserves are projected to be depleted in 2034 – the same as last year's projection. At that time there will be sufficient income to pay only 77 percent of scheduled benefits.
The Trustees project that come January, there will be a 2.2 percent increase in benefits for 2018. That certainly does not cover the real costs faced by elders who spend much more on medical bills and prescription drugs than young and midlife Americans but we'll deal with that another day.
Today, we need to educate ourselves on the best ways to ensure that Social Security will be viable way past 2034 and how to counter those in and out of Congress who are working hard to cut the program.
”Social Security is the most universal, secure, fair, and efficient source of retirement income that we have, providing a guaranteed, inflation-protected source of income that one will never outlive. Expanding Social Security is a common-sense solution to that looming crisis...
“Expanding Social Security is a solution to other challenges, as well. Americans are rightly concerned about growing income and wealth inequality. Expanding Social Security and requiring millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share will begin to put brakes on this dangerous, and rapidly growing, upward redistribution of wealth.”
Regarding expansion, in February, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Representative Peter DeFazio of Oregon introduced the Social Security Expansion Act in both the House and the Senate.
The bill would remove the loophole so that earned income above $250,000 would be subject to the Social Security payroll tax (it is not now) and replace the current calculation for cost-of-living (COLA) increases to one that better reflects how elders spend their money. It also would
⚫ Increase benefits for Social Security recipients by an estimated $65 a month
⚫ Improve the Special Minimum Benefit by making it easier for low-income workers to qualify for benefits and increasing the benefit level
⚫ Apply a 6.2 percent Social Security tax on investment income for high-income households, collecting more revenue for the program
⚫ If enacted, the Social Security Expansion Act will provide a critical expansion of benefits and extend the solvency of Social Security for more than 60 years, past 2078.
Of course, since the Republicans control both the House and Senate, this bill would seem to be dead on arrival. However, listen to Nancy Altman again from her article referenced above:
”As divided as the American people are over many issues, we are not divided about our deep support for Social Security.
“Support for Social Security expansion, and opposition to benefit reductions, cuts across ideological divides. These views are shared by Republicans, Independents, and Democrats. They are held by self-identified Tea Partiers and union households.
“A Pew poll conducted during last year’s presidential primaries discovered that supporters of every candidate running overwhelmingly oppose Social Security cuts. Our Social Security system is so popular that it unites Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz supporters!”
So now that Congress ran out of steam on repealing Obamacare and gutting Medicaid late last night, it won't be long before they try to convince Americans that Social Security isn't working which simply isn't true. Some well-researched tweaks can fix it.
With their unrelenting attacks on the Affordable Care Act, Republicans in Congress have already proved that they don't care what their constituents want and it won't be any different for Social Security.
So be ready to barrage Congress with the truth. For ourselves, our children, grandchildren and beyond, we can't afford to lose this one.