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Tag: social security

Winning The Fight To Expand Social Security

Reprinted with permission from DC Report

Out of sight from most Americans, powerful, organized and determined monied interests have waged a more than three-decade-long, billionaire-funded campaign to dismantle Social Security. That campaign has enjoyed some success. And it is with us still.

It is not hard to see the successes of that campaign. Many Americans have been persuaded that Social Security is unaffordable, in crisis and must, at the very least, be scaled back. But while the campaign has succeeded in undermining confidence in the future of Social Security, it has failed to scale back Social Security's modest, but vital benefits, or, worse, radically transform Social Security, ending it as we know it. The good news is that over the last few years, the movement to expand, not cut, Social Security has been growing.

It is no accident that so many in the news media and political elite have bought the lies. The campaign is backed by hundreds of millions of dollars and a cottage industry of academics who have built their careers on criticizing Social Security. Together, those forces brought a veneer of respectability to claims that Social Security is unaffordable, in crisis, and spawning competition and conflict between generations.

Trudy Lieberman, a noted media critic and former New York University journalism professor, has observed that most media outlets have been reporting "only one side of this story using 'facts' that are misleading or flat-out wrong while ignoring others."

The machinations of the anti-Social Security campaign largely explain why media elites and both political parties lost an understanding of the conceptual underpinnings that have led to Social Security's popularity. Indeed, Social Security is often described as a problem rather than the solution that it is.

An Earned Right

Rather than define Social Security as an earned right to insurance purchased with our work and contributions, the critics imply that it is a government handout. The media and politicians use words and phrases like "entitlement," "makers versus takers," "deficit crisis" and "safety net" to spread and reinforce the message. The campaign's messaging, repeated over and over again, falsely asserts that Social Security was and remains a cause of federal deficits, even though Social Security does not add even a penny to the federal debt.

The truth is that Social Security has a $2.9 trillion surplus, which it invests. By law, it can only invest in Treasury bonds and other federal instruments backed by the full faith and credit of our government. It is a creditor to our federal government. That means Social Security has loaned our federal government $2.9 trillion. In turn, that means that our government has to borrow less from foreign governments and other investors to finance budget shortfalls. Even so, the false claim that Social Security is a government giveaway and a drain on the nation's resources has become a standard talking point of those who would dismantle the program.

The winds are shifting, however. President Joe Biden explicitly ran on expanding Social Security, as did Hillary Clinton in 2016. Expanding Social Security was a plank in both the 2016 and 2020 Democratic platforms.

That position is in line with what surveys show the overwhelming majority of voters support—Republicans, independents, and Democrats alike. But that doesn't mean that any of us who want to see Social Security expanded, not cut, can let down our guard. Quite the opposite. The anti-Social Security campaigners know how to adjust their tactics to changing situations, how to fade away, how to blend in, and how and when to attack. If those of us who favor expanding, not cutting, Social Security are to be successful, we must remain vigilant and active. The billionaire campaign remains well-funded, well-organized, active, and strategic.

Going forward, we can expand Social Security, even in the face of distortions, misunderstandings, and outright lies promoted by moneyed interests. All of us who care about the economic security of our families have a stake in this cause. Everyone who cares about what kind of nation we leave for our children and grandchildren has a stake.

How To Win

How do we successfully build on the legacy that has been bequeathed to us, leaving it even better for the generations that follow? In short, how do we get our elected officials—who, after all, work for us—to vote to expand Social Security?

We already have some very dedicated leaders championing the cause of expansion, but we need more of them if expansion is to pass the Senate and get signed into law. Getting those now in office who disagree with us to change their minds and getting people elected who already do agree is tricky. All politicians these days claim to support Social Security. All say that their goal is to strengthen or save it. We cannot be satisfied with platitudes. We must demand clear support for expansion, with no cuts whatsoever.

Electing more champions and convincing others to change their minds won't be done without knowledge, commitment, perseverance and action. It won't be done without a vision backed by values that we all share.

It won't be done behind closed doors, without politics and policies that involve the American people and puts us first.

And, it won't be done without a fight. Nor will the fight be an easy one. There is too much money on the side of those who want to dismantle our Social Security system.

Broad Support

Fortunately, the American people—across demographics and the political spectrum—are unified in their opposition to cutting benefits and favor benefit expansions. They appropriately have a sense of contributing toward their own retirement and feel good about receiving Social Security benefits. They understand the importance of providing disability protection for themselves and their families, and the importance of protecting children and other family members if they die. Having witnessed losses in their extended families from unforeseen events—for example, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the devastation in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and now today's pandemic—they understand how quickly and efficiently Social Security responds to community and personal crises. They understand that benefits are not based on need, but rather have been earned through labor and contributions from salaries and wages. They understand how important Social Security is to their own and their family's economic security.

It is imperative to recognize that Social Security didn't just happen. Past generations of politicians and citizens created, improved, fought for and defended our Social Security system. They protected it, safeguarded it, expanded it and passed it forward, stronger than before, as a legacy to all of us, young and old alike. Now it is our turn.

The debate over the future of Social Security is most fundamentally a debate about decency and fairness. It is a debate about our values. In the words of President Franklin Roosevelt, it's not about "the creation of new and strange values," but, as he explained 86 years ago: "It is rather the finding of the way once more to known, but to some degree forgotten, ideals and values. If the means and details are in some instances new, the objectives are as permanent as human nature. Among our objectives I place the security of the men, women, and children of the Nation first."

American Values

Among these values that now underlie the fight over Social Security is compassion for and responsibility to care for our families, our neighbors and ourselves. The recognition that Social Security is part of our compensation for our hard work and contributions is another value this fight over Social Security is about.

Still another value the fight is about is recognition of Social Security's conservative, prudent management of our money. Of all federal programs, Social Security and Medicare are the most closely monitored. Social Security is extremely conservatively financed and must balance its budget without any borrowing whatsoever. Yet this important value is disregarded by our politicians, who tend to lump it together with all other federal spending.

This is not a time for compromising the economic well-being of the middle class and poor, not when income and wealth inequality are higher than they have ever been in the past 50 years. Not when the worldwide pandemic has exacerbated that income and wealth inequality.

This is not a time to accept cuts to our Social Security as "reasonable compromise," as little "tweaks" that will do no lasting harm. Rather, this is the time for our elected leaders to expand Social Security, as the overwhelming majority of Americans who elected them want.

It is a time to successfully build on the legacy that has been bequeathed to us, leaving it even better for the generations that follow. At base, this is about the kind of nation we want for ourselves, our children, and their children. Although couched largely in terms of economics, the debate over the future of Social Security is most fundamentally a debate about the role of government, about all of us working together, and about the societal values the nation seeks to achieve through Social Security for today's and tomorrow's generations.

Nancy Altman, a lawyer, and Eric Kingson, a Syracuse University professor of social work, co-founded Social Security Works, a non-profit organization working to protect and expand Social Security. This article is adapted from their new book Social Security Works for Everyone!, published by The New Press, with a foreword by David Cay Johnston, DCReport editor-in-chief.

Trump Holdovers Blamed For Delay In Social Security Survival Checks

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

The Internal Revenue Service, which has some longstanding problems of its own, has another recent, urgent one: a backlog of survival checks meant for millions of disabled and retired Americans. They can't send out the $1,400 checks authorized by the American Rescue Plan President Joe Biden signed into law two weeks ago, on March 11. The reason they can't get those checks out to some of the millions who aren't regular tax filers is because they need the Social Security Administration (SSA) to send them the information to do it. And the hold-over Trumpers at the head of the SSA, commissioner Andrew Saul and deputy commissioner David Black, are likely the problem.

A handful of House Democratic committee chairs including Ways and Means Chair Richard Neal are on the case, demanding immediate action from SSA commissioner Saul to fix this. "We are aware that the IRS asked SSA to start sending payment files two weeks before the American Rescue Plan became law on March 11, 2021," wrote the chairmen. "As of today, SSA still has not provided the IRS with the payment files that are needed to issue EIPs to these struggling Americans. We demand that you immediately provide the IRS this information by tomorrow, March 25, 2021."

It's unclear if the AWOL Saul was actually at work to receive the letter. He has a storied history of not bothering to show up at work, just one of the problems the people who work at SSA have with him. Someone, however, got the message. According to an agency spokesperson, the letter was received, because they told HuffPost they'd get those files over to Treasury by Neal's deadline of Thursday. "Social Security staff is working day and night with Treasury and IRS representatives to ensure that the electronic file of Social Security and SSI recipients is complete, accurate, and ready to be used to issue payments," the spokesperson said.

Which is fine, but it will probably take another week for the IRS to get all the information sorted and checks out to the 30 million people who so far have been left out—those who don't normally have to file taxes. The IRS relies on SSA for the information of people who are disabled and retired and are non-filers. The SSA and IRS have already been through two rounds of this, so the procedure wasn't sprung on anybody. On top of that, the IRS gave SSA a two-week notice ahead of the bill being passed and signed essentially to say "get ready, we're going to need to be on this."

Social Security Works, a group that has been advocating for Social Security for years, was not amused. Executive director Alex Lawson slammed SSA's Saul and Black for the delay in an emailed statement, pointing out the real harm of the delay. "As a result, nearly 30 million seniors and people with disabilities—who are among those hit hardest by COVID—still haven't received their relief checks," he wrote. "They are counting on these checks for basic necessities like food and medication."

"Saul and Black were appointed by Donald Trump and have been acting as his agents for years," Lawson continued. "President Biden can't stand for this any longer. He must protect Social Security beneficiaries by firing Saul and Black immediately."

Saul and Black can both be fired by Biden. Since taking office in 2019, they have been working as doggedly to undermine the system as Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has at the U.S. Postal Service. Like DeJoy, they're longtime Republican operatives and big donors. Like DeJoy, destroying beloved institutions seems to be their jam, and making life particularly hard for the most vulnerable among us their goal. The two have not only run roughshod over staff at the SSA, but they have politicized the Social Security disability program, trying to make benefits harder to get and more burdensome to keep by creating all sorts of hoops for disabled people to jump through.

Democrats, including Senate chair of the Subcommittee on Social Security, Pensions, and Family Policy Sherrod Brown and the members who called out the SSA for delaying checks, have been demanding that President Biden immediately fire and replace the two. They are "incapable of carrying out Democrats' vision of protecting and expanding Social Security," Brown said in his first statement as committee chair. "As agents of the Trump Social Security agenda, they cut the benefits that hardworking Americans have earned, attacked the Social Security Administration's employees, denied beneficiaries due process, and needlessly increased disability reviews during the Covid-19 pandemic," said Brown.

Add unnecessarily delaying critical financial help to 30 million of the most vulnerable Americans to the list. These guys have got to go.

Biden’s Rescue Plan Restores Veterans’ Aid Cut By Trump

Reprinted with permission from American Independent

The $1.9 trillion COVID relief plan signed into law by President Joe Biden on Thursday contains a number of provisions that will provide new help to veterans struggling due to the pandemic.

U.S. veterans have suffered enormously during the pandemic, experts say. A Wounded Warrior Project survey last spring found that more than half reported worse mental health since the establishment of social distancing measures, and, according to an NBC report, the VA's mental health crisis line received 15% more calls in 2020 than in the previous year.

They are also among those who have experienced unemployment, a housing crisis, and extreme food instability during the pandemic, with some areas seeing food bank demand doubled for the military community in 2020.

The American Rescue Plan will bring relief to veterans by allocating $17 billion to the VA, including $14.4 billion for physical and mental health care and $750 million for housing construction and repair.

The law will allocate $50 billion to housing and rental assistance and $400 million to a job training program for veterans.

The Veteran Rapid Retraining Program offers veterans 12 months of direct payments once they enroll in an approved job-training program. It also provides full tuition payments to their program at no cost to the veteran and a monthly basic housing allowance that equals that of a married, E-5 active-duty soldier.

The program aims to provide job training for more than 17,000 veterans.

The relief will fill gaps in support exacerbated by repeated moves by the Donald Trump administration to slash veterans' benefits and health care.

Throughout his time in office, Trump waged war on programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and Social Security, all heavily relied upon by veterans.

Nearly one in 10 veterans receives health care through Medicaid, according to the House Committee on the Budget, and more than half have insurance coverage under Medicare. More than 620,000 rely on Social Security benefits, and 1.3 million veteran households receive SNAP food stamp benefits.

In 2019, the Trump administration rolled out policy changes that would have imposed work requirements on SNAP recipients, which would have had a disastrous impact on low-income Americans, including veterans, during the pandemic if advocates hadn't effectively blocked them. They would have cut SNAP funding to at least 700,000 Americans.

The Trump Department of Agriculture fought a lengthy battle in federal court to prevent states from administering emergency food stamps to low-income Americans.

In February 2020, just before onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Trump released a $4.8 trillion budget proposal that contained sharp budget cuts across the board, particularly to Medicare and Medicaid. The House Committee on the Budget issued a statement days later on the harm it would cause veterans by decreasing funding for these crucial programs.

Trump also made repeated attempts to cut Social Security benefits. He signed an executiveorder in August 2020, during a peak in the pandemic, that established a temporary deferral through December of that year for employees under a certain income level of payment of the portion of the payroll tax that funds Social Security, and pledged to make them permanent if he was reelected.

Trump also exacerbated an enormous staffing crisis within the Department of Veteran Affairs, which provides physical and mental health services to veterans. He enacted hiring freezesimpacting the VA and also cut the Interim Staffing Program, which assigned physicians, nurse practitioners, and assistants to VA hospitals and health care centers when permanent staff went on leave or retired.

When David Shulkin, the first veteran affairs secretary under Trump, took office, he vowed to double the size of the staffing program. Instead, he was removed by Trump after objecting to efforts by the administration to privatize the program, which was shut down to be replaced with a telehealth program.

The Trump administration also hampered the VA's efforts to recruit and retain staff by slashing employee benefits and dismantling worker protections. The most common position left unfilled was that of psychiatrist.

Ted Blickwedel, a former VA counselor, told the American Prospect that the Department of Veterans Affairs under Trump "kept pushing the numbers, the numbers, the numbers," adding, "We had counselors taking leave, burning out, facing suicidal thoughts, or obtaining their own therapists."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Trump Launches ‘Despicable’ Last-Minute Assault On Social Security

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Just weeks away from relinquishing power to incoming President-elect Joe Biden, the Trump administration is quietly launching a last-minute assault on Social Security by rushing ahead with a rule that, if implemented, could deny critical benefits to hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) late last week submitted to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) a proposed rule aiming to further tighten eligibility requirements for Social Security disability benefits, which around ten million Americans currently rely on for a modest monthly income.

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How Donald Trump Threatens The Retirement Of Every American Worker

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

Tom Michels worked 31 years at LTV's iron ore mine in northern Minnesota—and had already started making retirement plans—when the company's bankruptcy wiped out his job and most of his hard-earned pension.

Michels took a series of odd jobs to make ends meet until he became eligible for the Social Security benefits that now enable the 71-year-old to buy food, cover health care costs and even travel a little with his wife, Vicky.

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Expert Warns Trump Has A Real Plan To Destroy Social Security

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Donald Trump's nonstop lies, together with his endless cries of "fake news" and "hoax," make the role of media fact checkers more important than ever. Unfortunately, on the crucial issue of Social Security, too many of them are furiously defending Trump from his own words.

Instead of acting as a check on Trump's lies, they act like bullied children seeking to appease. They provide him cover, grade him on a curve, and give him every benefit of the doubt while denying that same leniency to Joe Biden and others. This is an extreme disservice in the lead-up to the election, muddying the debate over an issue about which voters care deeply.

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No Payroll Tax, No Social Security -- And That's The GOP Scheme

By the time you read this, President Donald Trump's latest economic stimulus plan may be largely forgotten. But it has revived an unpleasant idea that the right fringe has been peddling for years: killing Social Security and Medicare.

We speak of an executive order that would cut payroll taxes. Payroll taxes fund virtually all of Social Security and much of Medicare. Without this money, Americans would have neither.

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New Study Shows Trump Policies Drive Millions Of Seniors Into Poverty

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

Donald Trump's inept handling of the coronavirus pandemic is condemning millions of older Americans to get by on much smaller incomes and forcing many into permanent poverty, a new study shows.

These people can anticipate shorter lives with less robust health, while taxpayers will bear the burden of care for many years of increased welfare benefits and subsidies.

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