TSCL Submits Statement in Support of Three Major Social Security Changes
By Jessie Gibbons, Legislative Director
In March, the House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee held its first hearing of the 116th Congress, and it was focused on the need to improve the adequacy of Social Security benefits. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle seem to agree that three major changes to the program must be made: improving benefits for widows and widowers following the death of a spouse, creating a new special minimum benefit for those who worked long careers in low-paying jobs, and addressing the inequities created by the Windfall Elimination Provision that impacts millions of teachers, police officers, and other public servants.
Modernizing Social Security has rare bipartisan support from both Democrats and Republicans. In his opening statement, Congressman John Larson (CT-1) – Chairman of the Subcommittee – reminded lawmakers that major changes to the program haven’t been made since 1983, and benefits haven’t been expanded in over fifty years.
Congressman Tom Reed – Ranking Member of the Subcommittee – agreed, saying: “Much of the program we know today was designed in the late 1930s. A lot has changed since then – today more women are working, people start their families later, and, in some cases, they live longer. It’s time to come together to find bipartisan solutions.”
The Senior Citizens League was pleased that these three policy initiatives received bipartisan support at the hearing in March, and we urge Congress to enact them this year. We hope lawmakers on the Social Security Subcommittee will consider several other benefit improvements as well. TSCL submitted a statement to the Subcommittee following the March hearing that outlined three benefit enhancements for which our supporters have expressed overwhelming support. They are:
- Improving the Social Security cost-of-living adjustment (COLA). Under current law, COLAs are based on the way young workers spend their money using the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners (CPI-W). A more fair and adequate measure of the inflation that older Americans experience is the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly (CPI-E). We estimate that individuals who filed for Social Security with average benefits over thirty years ago would have received nearly $14,000 more over the course of their retirement if COLAs had been based on the CPI-E.
- Boosting Social Security benefits. Since 2000, Medicare Part B premiums have grown by 195 percent. Average annual out-of-pocket spending on prescription drugs has increased by 188 percent. But Social Security benefits have grown by just 46 percent since 2000. A modest boost in benefits is essential in order to make up for years of inadequate COLAs and skyrocketing healthcare costs. The Senior Citizens League believes a benefit boost of $70 per month is a fair increase.
- Cutting taxes for millions of beneficiaries. This year, millions of beneficiaries with modest incomes just two times higher than the federal poverty level paid taxes on their Social Security benefits. The income thresholds for the taxation of benefits – set at $25,000 for individuals and $32,000 for joint filers – were first established in 1984, and have not been adjusted for inflation since then. The Senior Citizens League was disappointed that the thresholds were not adjusted in 2017 when Congress passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, and we urge Congress to act this year to cut taxes for beneficiaries.
In the months ahead, The Senior Citizens League will continue to advocate for these and other commonsense policy solutions that would strengthen and enhance Social Security benefits for current and future beneficiaries. For progress updates on the work of the Social Security Subcommittee in Congress, follow The Senior Citizens League on Twitter. To read the full statement submitted by The Senior Citizens League to the Social Security Subcommittee, click here.