Legislative Update for Week Ending March 9, 2018

Legislative Update for Week Ending March 9, 2018

This week, two congressional committees held hearings on issues affecting older Americans, and The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) saw support grow for four key bills in the House and Senate.

Aging Committee Holds Hearing on Combatting Senior Scams

On Wednesday, the Senate Special Committee on Aging convened to hold a hearing titled “Stopping Senior Scams.” At the hearing, members of the committee released this year’s Fraud Book, which details the ten most common scams reported to the committee’s fraud hotline. In 2017, the hotline received calls from more than 1,400 seniors who were the victims of robocalls, lottery scams, grandparent scams, and romance scams, among many others.

Members of the committee heard from several witnesses at Wednesday’s hearing, including Stephen and Rita Shiman, two older Americans from Saco, Maine who were recently victims of the common grandparent scam against seniors. The couple was contacted via phone by a scammer who claimed to be their grandson. The caller told Mr. and Mrs. Shiman he was being held unfairly in a county jail and needed $1,230 to be released on bail. They completed the transaction without a second thought and learned they had been scammed later that day, when they called to check in on their actual grandson.

Mr. Shiman said at Wednesday’s hearing: “There is a special bond between grandparents and their grandchildren. The scammers knew this well and took full advantage of it with my wife and myself. They knew that when a grandchild is in trouble, grandparents go all out to help.”

Millions of seniors are scammed each year just like Mr. and Mrs. Shiman. In her opening statement, Chairman Susan Collins (ME) said: “According to the Government Accountability Office, America’s seniors lose a staggering $2.9 billion a year to an ever-growing array of financial exploitation schemes and scams … Today we are putting criminals on notice that they will be stopped and they will be brought to justice.”

TSCL is pleased that lawmakers on the Senate Aging Committee are raising awareness of scams against seniors and we agree that more must be done to combat the growing issue. In the months ahead, we will advocate for legislation that would protect older Americans from financial abuse. In the meantime, we encourage our supporters to read the Aging Committee’s updated Fraud Book by clicking HERE. As Chairman Collins said on Wednesday, “The more that seniors know about these scams, the less likely they are to fall victim.”

Social Security Subcommittee Discusses SSA Leadership

On Wednesday, the Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee held a hearing titled “Lacking a Leader: Challenges Facing the SSA after over Five Years of Acting Commissioners." The Social Security Administration has been without a Senate-confirmed commissioner for over five years, which means it has not had a leader with the legal authority to make long-term decisions for the future of the agency.

The results of not having a formal leader are apparent. As expert witness Max Richtman of the National Committee to Preserve Social security and Medicare described, disability appeals can take over six hundred days to process and ten thousand people die each year waiting for decisions on their appeals.

Elizabeth Curda of the Government Accountability Office explained that the operating system for filing and processing these claims was built in the 1950s and requires $1.1 billion just to maintain, not to improve, the system. Max Stier from the Partnership for Public Service said: "We have a legacy government that hasn't kept up with the world."

The Senior Citizens League agrees that these faults in the program are unacceptable and unsustainable. With over ten thousand Baby Boomers becoming eligible for Social Security benefits every day, Congress must act to ensure that SSA is fully funded and equipped with the leadership that is needed to serve our older and disabled Americans. As Ranking Member John Larson (CT-1) said at Wednesday’s hearing, "What is Social Security if not the full faith and credit of the United States government?"

TSCL joins voices with Chairman Sam Johnson (TX- 3) in urging President Trump to nominate a Social Security Commissioner immediately. To stay updated on the nomination and confirmation process in the months ahead, visit the Legislative News section of our website every Friday morning.

Four Key Bills Gain Support

This week, The Senior Citizens League was pleased to see support grow for four key bills in the House and Senate.

First, the Social Security 2100 Act (H.R. 1902) gained one new cosponsor in Representative Diana DeGette (CO-1), bringing the cosponsor total to 171.  If signed into law, H.R. 1902 would strengthen Social Security benefits by make cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) more adequate, increasing monthly benefits by 2%, creating a new Special Minimum Benefit equal to 125% of the poverty line, providing a tax cut to Social Security beneficiaries, applying the payroll tax to annual income over $400,000, and gradually increasing the payroll tax rate by 0.25%.

Second, the Social Security Fairness Act of 2017 (S. 915) gained one new cosponsor in Senator Tina Smith (MN), bringing the cosponsor total to twenty-two. If signed into law, S. 915 would repeal the Government Pension Offset (GPO) and Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) – two Social Security provisions that cut the earned benefits of millions of teachers, police officers, and other public servants each year.

Third, the Standardizing Electronic Prior Authorization for Safe Prescribing Act of 2018 (H.R. 4841) gained three new cosponsors in Representative Todd Rokita (IN-4), Representative Jackie Walorski (IN-2), and Representative Roger Marshall (KS-1), bringing the new cosponsor total to six. If signed into law, H.R. 4841 would allow for and standardize electronic prior authorization (ePA) for Medicare Part D beneficiaries.

Finally, the Protecting and Preserving Social Security Act (S. 1600) gained one new cosponsor in Senator Claire McCaskill (MO), who brings the new cosponsor total to three. If signed into law, S. 1600 would base the Social Security COLA on the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly (CPI-E). The bill would also ensure that high income earners pay their fair share of taxes into Social Security.

TSCL enthusiastically supports ​H.R. 1902, S. 915, H.R. 4841, and S. 1600, and we were pleased to see support grow for each of them this week. For more information, visit the Bill Tracking section of our website.