This week, progress stalled on a continuing resolution to fund the federal government past September 30th. In addition, one Senate committee held a hearing on maximizing Social Security benefits.
Progress Stalls on CR Work
This week, discussions to fund the federal government past September 30th – the end of the fiscal year – seemed to stall. Leaders in the House and Senate told reporters last week that they planned to take up a short-term continuing resolution (CR) by September 21st. However, this week, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said many important details remain up in the air, and the timeline has shifted.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (NV) told reporters on Wednesday, “The CR is not done; it’s a work in progress … This isn’t going to be wrapped up in the next couple hours, that’s for sure.” In addition, Senator John Thune (SD) said, “I think [Majority Leader McConnell’s] goal all along has been to try and get something considered by the end of this week, to try and wrap things up. But I'll just tell you, my own view is that, based on past experience, I don't think we'll get there this week. I think this probably spills into next week.”
Passing a short-term funding bill to keep the government operating past September 30th is the last major hurdle lawmakers must tackle before the November elections. It remains to be seen whether or not they will successfully negotiate a CR before the quickly approaching deadline. In the days ahead, The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) will keep a close eye on the talks since failing to pass a CR would likely impact Social Security beneficiaries and Medicare doctors negatively. For updates, visit the Legislative News section of our website.
Senate Committee Discusses Social Security Benefit Maximization
On Wednesday, the Senate Special Committee on Aging held a hearing titled “Maximizing Your Social Security Benefits: What You Need to Know.” The Committee heard from a panel of experts, including Virginia Reno – Deputy Commissioner for Retirement and Disability Policy at the Social Security Administration (SSA) – and William Meyer – CEO of Social Security Solutions, Inc., a private firm that provides financial advice to retirees.
At Wednesday’s hearing, Charles Jeszeck – Director of Education, Workforce, and Income Security at the Government Accountability Office (GAO) – unveiled the findings of a study requested by the Aging Committee’s leaders back in March of 2015. The study examined the extent to which older Americans understand the rules that impact their future benefits when making claiming decisions, and the quality of the information provided by the agency and its field offices around the country.
GAO found that many individuals do not fully understand that their benefits will continue to grow the longer they wait to collect them. In addition, GAO found that many field offices are not consistently providing the information individuals need to make informed decisions. As a result, many older Americans may begin collecting Social Security benefits earlier than necessary without knowing the financial consequences.
In her opening statement, Chairman Susan Collins (ME), said: “Deciding at what age to begin claiming Social Security retirement benefits is the single most important financial decision that many Americans will ever make. Few, however, understand that making the wrong choice can end up costing them tens of thousands of dollars, or more, during their retirement.” Retirees who qualify for Social Security benefits are entitled to begin collecting at 62, but for each delayed year, benefits grow by 8 percent until they reach their maximum amount at age 70. According to Chairman Collins, deciding when to file for benefits “could make the difference between a secure retirement and living in poverty.”
At Wednesday’s hearing, key witnesses made several recommendations for improving the process. Sita Nataraj Slavov – Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University – suggested that SSA stop using the term “retirement age” since it suggests that individuals should claim benefits immediately after they stop working. She also recommended that SSA begin referring to age 70 as the "full" retirement age since it is the age at which benefits are the highest. In addition, William Meyer of Social Security Solutions, Inc. suggested that SSA notify individuals of the annual difference in benefits they would receive if they delayed filing for one year.
TSCL agrees that improvements must be made to ensure that older Americans are better informed about their benefit claiming options, and we are hopeful that SSA will carefully consider the proposals made at Wednesday’s hearing. In addition, TSCL hopes that Congress will appropriate adequate funding to SSA in the months ahead so that field offices around the country can provide the highest quality service possible to individuals nearing and in retirement. For progress updates, follow TSCL’s advocacy efforts on Twitter.