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For Labor Day, Trump Attacks Workers And Social Security

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Labor Day is a holiday designed to honor America’s workers. Instead, Donald Trump continues to attack them. Indeed, his administration is in the midst of a stealth effort that not only attacks workers but also our earned Social Security benefits and our federal government. The long-term goals of Trump and his Congressional allies are to destroy the labor movement, wreck the federal government, and end Social Security.

That may sound hyperbolic, but it is not. Trump’s latest stealth attack is not only anti-union, it will eventually make it so difficult to access Social Security benefits that some beneficiaries (particularly those attempting to qualify for their earned Social Security disability benefits) never receive them at all. Others will eventually claim their benefits, but only after an unnecessarily burdensome process of visiting field offices that are rarely open and have hours-long lines when they are.

For Republicans, that’s all according to plan. Trump and his Congressional allies are intentionally breaking our government so they can turn around and say that it doesn’t work.

Trump’s war on workers is extremely well documented. It is perhaps best illustrated by his anti-worker nominees to be Secretary of Labor, a pack of wolves in the hen house. The first nominee was guilty of scores of labor law violations and forced to pay millions of dollars in settlements to workers he cheated. He was ultimately rejected because even many Republicans decided that they couldn’t vote for an ethically challenged nominee who was also an accused domestic abuser.

Trump’s second anti-worker nominee was Alex Acosta, best known for his sweetheart deal with the billionaire pedophile Jeffrey Epstein. His current acting Secretary of Labor is, if anything, more anti-worker than the first two. And his newest nominee for the job has spent his career defending businesses seeking to roll back labor protections.

Trump’s war on the federal government is also well-documented. His administration is upending the lives of career civil servants by telling those based in Washington to move to the Midwest and those based around the country to relocate to Washington. Just before the beginning of the school year, these workers have been given virtually no time to decide if they will relocate or resign. This is having the desired effect: Most are quitting.

The Trump Administration’s actions are intended to shrink government to the size where they can, in the words of Republican activist Grover Norquist, “drown it in the bathtub.”

Trump’s hostility to Social Security and Medicare is equally clear. He recently floated a proposal to reduce Social Security’s funding. Days later, he gloated over his intentions to cut Medicare as a “fun second-term project.”

The American people did not vote for these benefit cuts. In fact, Trump ran on a promise to protect Social Security and Medicare. This was a shrewd political strategy, given that voters of all political stripes strongly value our Social Security and strongly oppose cutting its modest but vital benefits. They strongly value our Medicare, as well. But as with his promise to raise taxes on the rich, to provide quality health care for everyone, even to act presidential, Trump has done the exact opposite now that he’s in the White House.

Despite their claims, the GOP elite’s hostility to Social Security and Medicare — indeed, to anything the government does to help us improve our lives — doesn’t have anything to do with the debt or deficit. It has everything to do with the donor class trying to avoid paying their fair share toward the common good.

Yet because Social Security and Medicare are so popular, Republicans know that direct benefit cuts will be impossible to pass into law, as long as all of us pay attention. That is why Trump and his Congressional allies are conducting a stealth war, using guerilla warfare tactics against our earned benefits.

One of their most nefarious tactics is undercutting the Social Security Administration (SSA), the agency charged with ensuring that workers receive their earned Social Security benefits in a timely and stress-free manner. SSA has suffered nearly a decade of budget cuts from Congressional Republicans. These cuts have resulted in office closures, staff reductions, and a years-long wait for disability hearings.

Attacks on SSA don’t just hurt the agency and its 60,000 workers. They hurt all Americans by making it increasingly difficult to collect the Social Security benefits we earn with every paycheck. That’s why all of us should fight to defend it.

At SSA and across the federal government, the Trump Administration is playing hardball. It has issued anti-worker executive orders. It has failed to negotiate in good faith with those representing federal workers. And recently, the Trump administration launched a new assault. It arbitrarily and unilaterally sought to impose a new contract on SSA workers. That imposed contract would effectively destroy the ability of the workers’ union to represent them.

The Trump Administration’s goal is to make conditions at SSA so intolerable that demoralized workers will quit in droves, taking essential institutional knowledge with them. This will directly affect the hundreds of millions of us who call SSA or visit a local field office regarding our earned Social Security benefits.

Federal workers are fighting back in the courts. Their Democratic allies in Congress are seeking to come to their aid, but they do not control the White House and Senate. The only way to protect the hard-working civil servants at the Social Security Administration, and thereby protect our Social Security and Medicare, is to make Donald Trump a one-term president.


Nancy J. Altman is a writing fellow for Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute. She has a 40-year background in the areas of Social Security and private pensions. She is president of Social Security Works and chair of the Strengthen Social Security coalition. Her latest book is The Truth About Social Security. She is also the author of The Battle for Social Security and co-author of Social Security Works!

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

How Divorce And Remarriage Affect Your Social Security Benefits

By Janet Kidd Stewart, Chicago Tribune (TNS)

Q. I am 64 and work full time. I plan to claim Social Security benefits at 70. My ex-husband is 66 and we were married for 19 years. I remarried at 61. Am I entitled to some of my ex-husband’s benefits? Am I eligible for my current husband’s? Can I claim spousal benefits on my ex-husband’s record now and hold off on mine until age 70?

A. Generally, a subsequent remarriage takes away the ability to collect divorced spousal benefits, said Robin Brewton, vice president of client services at Social Security Solutions Inc. There are very limited exceptions. You could consider claiming a spousal benefit on your current husband’s work record when you reach full retirement age, letting you later switch to benefits on your own record at age 70, if that benefit would be higher after those four years of delayed retirement credits, Brewton said.

You can file for early, reduced spousal benefits now because you’ve been married longer than a year, Brewton said. But doing so before reaching full retirement age would mean you wouldn’t get to choose which benefit to take, and your benefit would automatically be calculated as a blend of the two, which would be a permanent reduction in your maximum benefit. Be aware that because of your age, you are among the last Social Security beneficiaries who are going to have the option to restrict your claim in this way. A recent congressional budget amendment killed off this strategy for anyone younger than 62 at the end of 2015. Also be aware that because you remarried after age 60, you may be entitled to divorced widow’s benefits when your first husband dies, so that could potentially affect your benefit calculation.

Q. My wife and I are in our late 70s, own a condo and have a little over $500,000 in assets, jointly owned in a revocable living trust. Nine months ago, my wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and seems to be deteriorating. My daughter suggested I change ownership of some assets so that, in the event my wife is institutionalized, I wouldn’t be left destitute. I’m familiar with Medicaid’s five-year look-back period. Are there any alternative strategies to pursue and would I lose complete control of our assets if I pursued them?

A. There are some planning steps to take in cases like these, said Mark Munson, an attorney with Wisconsin law firm Ruder Ware. Because Medicaid is a joint federal and state program, however, the rules can vary widely depending on where you live, so it’s important to hire a qualified estate-planning attorney to oversee your strategy, Munson said.

The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and the National Elder Law Foundation maintain member directories and the latter certifies elder-law attorneys. Generally, however, you’ll want to learn your state’s current exemption amount for assets that can be retained by the “community” spouse (you) and still allow for your wife to qualify for Medicaid, Munson said.

The home you live in, a car and personal items are typically exempt assets as well, he said, so decide if there are home improvements or a mortgage payoff that makes sense for your situation. Finally, if there are remaining assets, you might look into a so-called Medicaid-compliant annuity, which could pay you income during your life in order to meet your own expenses and not thrust you onto public assistance as well, Munson said. Finally, he said, make sure you and the attorney plan for what would happen to your assets if you die first and your wife is on Medicaid.


Janet Kidd Stewart writes The Journey for the Chicago Tribune. Share your journey to or through retirement or pose a question at

(c)2015 Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Jason Hutchens via Wikimedia Commons


Yes, Social Security Is an ‘Entitlement’ — Literally

Q: In a recent column, you advised a 55-year-old man who had just lost his job and had some back problems to file for Social Security disability benefits. To quote from your column: “It doesn’t hurt to try filing for disability benefits.” That’s what’s wrong with our country today. We have an entitlement culture. Everyone thinks they are due something from the government. And you are just perpetuating this entitlement problem by encouraging this guy to file for Social Security benefits!

Q: Your recent column advising a man to file for disability benefits really ticked me off. You [blankety-blank] liberals never met a government program you didn’t like. And by trying to get as many people as possible on the taxpayer’s gravy train, you’re just adding to the problem. No wonder our country is in such a mess. We need to start cutting government programs, not encouraging more people to apply for them!

A: Gosh, sometimes I write what I think is the simplest little column trying to help a guy in a tough situation — and I catch all kinds of grief for it. These two emails are just a sampling of the many I received chastising me for suggesting that a man file for Social Security disability benefits. And some of the responses I got were downright mean and nasty! I guess I pushed a few buttons that are indicative of the conservative “get the government off my back” mood our country seems to be in.

Here was the story. A 55-year old man had worked at the same job for the past 30-plus years and had recently been laid off. He said he was looking for work but wasn’t having any success. He mentioned that he had severe back pain and although he was reluctant to do so, his wife wanted him to file for Social Security disability benefits. He emailed me asking what chance I thought he had of qualifying for such benefits.

In my column, I essentially told him two things. First, I told him the obvious: He would have no chance if he never filed for disability benefits. And then I did say that it wouldn’t hurt to try filing for such benefits, and I told him how to do so. But the second thing I told him is that I thought there was a pretty good chance he would be considered simply unemployed and not disabled.

I explained that to qualify for Social Security disability benefits, you must have an impairment so severe that it is expected to keep you out of work for at least 12 months. Because he himself said he was looking for work, it sounded to me like he wouldn’t meet that legal definition of a disabling condition.

But here is the point: He has every right in the world to file for Social Security disability benefits. We all do. And it’s my job to tell him so. In this guy’s case, he worked and paid Social Security taxes for more than 30 years. He’s out of work. He has a medical condition that is causing him pain. And I have learned in four decades of working with the Social Security program that many people who file for Social Security disability benefits have more medical problems than they initially allege.

For example, in addition to his back problems, this guy might have high blood pressure. He might have a little heart tremor. He might have hearing loss. His back pain alone may not be enough to qualify him for benefits. But a combination of impairments might make him legally disabled.

I don’t know anything about the man other than what he wrote in his short email. But I would have been entirely negligent had I answered him by saying something like: “You’ve got a bad back. Well that’s tough! I’ve got a bad back, too. You are not eligible for Social Security disability benefits, and you have no right to apply for them!”

I guess that’s the message all the people who got upset with my answer wanted me to deliver to this guy.

Many people throw around the term “entitlements,” as if all government programs are free giveaways. And according to these folks, everyone today feels entitled to something, and that’s why this country is going to you-know-where in a hand basket! They are especially upset with those “[blankety blank] liberals,” who just encourage everyone to get on the entitlement train. And if you listen to the anti-government crowd, they’ll tell you that Social Security is the lead car on that gravy train.

Well, Social Security truly and literally is an “entitlement” program. Retirement, disability, and survivor’s benefits make up what is known as Title II of the Social Security Act. And the law says that if you work and pay taxes for a required amount of time and if you meet all the other eligibility requirements, you are indeed entitled to Social Security benefits.

I must, however, make this important semantic point: There is a difference between being eligible for a government benefit and being entitled to it. On the very first day of my training class, when I joined the Social Security Administration over 40 years ago, I was taught that everyone who works and pays taxes is potentially “eligible” for Social Security benefits, but you don’t actually become “entitled” to them until you file and sign a legal application for benefits and your claim is approved.

Like it or not, Social Security is an entitlement program. And as taxpayers, each one of us has every right to apply for such benefits.

If you have a Social Security question, Tom Margenau has the answer. Contact him at