Legislative Update: September 2015

Legislative Update: September 2015

Social Security Can Be Fixed Without Benefit Cuts

By Jessie Gibbons, Senior Policy Analyst

In recent years, conversations about Social Security reform focused on the need to save funds by cutting benefits. While some lawmakers on Capitol Hill still favor an increase in the retirement age and a reduction in cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs), others have shifted the debate towards a growing retiree savings "crisis" and calling for expanding benefits instead. Three bills in particular would strengthen and modernize the Social Security program while making benefits more generous for all recipients, but especially for those who rely on them the most. These bills have won the support of many in Washington – including The Senior Citizens League:

  • The FAIR Social Security Act (H.R. 1984), introduced by Representative Peter DeFazio (OR-4). This bill would make COLAs more accurate by basing them on the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly (CPI-E). In a letter to his colleagues in Congress, Rep. DeFazio wrote: "Defying all common sense, COLAs are currently calculated based on the cost of goods that aren’t purchased in large numbers by seniors … Social Security COLAs should be based on accuracy, not austerity." According to his office, adopting the CPI-E would amount to a $43 monthly benefit increase at the age of 80 for the average retiree, and an increase of $70 per month at the age of 90.
  • The Social Security 2100 Act (H.R. 1391), introduced by Representative John Larson (CT-1). Like the FAIR Social Security Act, this bill would base COLAs on the CPI-E. It would also provide a 2 percent benefit bump for the average beneficiary and create a new minimum benefit set at 25 percent above the poverty line. In addition, more than 11 million seniors would see a significant tax cut, since the bill would double the income threshold for the taxation of benefits from $25,000 per individual to $50,000, and from $32,000 per couple to $100,000.
  • The Social Security Expansion Act (S. 731), introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders (VT). Like the 2100 Act, this bill would adopt the CPI-E and create a new minimum benefit to keep retirees out of poverty. It would also provide the average beneficiary with a $65 per month benefit increase – an amount that TSCL believes is fair and necessary. In last month’s issue of TSCL's Advisor, Sen. Sanders wrote: "Poll after poll has shown the American public supports expanding Social Security. Its time Congress listens to the American people … not the Wall Street millionaires who want to cut it."

TSCL believes all three of these bills go a long way in ensuring the retirement security seniors have earned and deserve. In addition to strengthening benefits, each one would include measures to increase the solvency of the Social Security program responsibly, for 40 years or more into the future. We look forward to working with Rep. DeFazio, Rep. Larson, and Sen. Sanders in the months ahead to help build support for their important legislation.