Can We Trust Congress After Surprise Social Security Cuts?
Last October’s debt deal contained surprise Social Security changes that will cost some Baby Boomer couples tens of thousands in anticipated Social Security income. While proponents say the changes were necessary to “close filing loopholes,” TSCL feels the cuts included people who are too close to retirement. Worse, these changes were struck in a secret, closed-door “must pass” debt deal with no public debate.
The changes closed two claiming tactics known as “file and suspend” and “restricted application for spousal benefits.” The claiming strategies have made it possible for both members of a couple who are 66 or older to delay claiming Social Security based on their own earnings records, in order to increase payments, while at the same time one spouse receives a spousal benefit. Alicia Munnell of The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College estimates the changes would save $9.5 billion per year — a potential cost that would grow over time.
Candidates campaign for office saying they don’t support cutting Social Security benefits of current retirees, or those close to retirement. Yet the two recently - enacted changes went into effect almost immediately after passage. People who are under the age of 66 by the end of April 2016 may no longer use file and suspend, and those who were under the age of 62 by the end of 2015 will no longer be able to use restricted applications for spousal benefits.
The cuts were buried in a “must pass” debt limit bill that provided essential funding for more than 60 million recipients of Social Security and other federal benefits. Even though the Social Security Trust Fund is the single largest government account which is holding government debt, legislation is required to ensure repayment of even the smallest fraction of the $2.8 trillion the government owes to the Social Security Trust Fund.
Abrupt legislative cuts erode the trust that Congress needs for making far bigger changes in the future. TSCL urges you to engage candidates in conversations about Social Security and Medicare. Let’s ask them what their plans are for fixing Social Security and Medicare and what changes they propose that would affect your benefits.
Sources: “Congress Kills Social Security Claiming Loopholes,” Alicia Munnell, Market Watch, November 11, 2015.