Social Security Coalition: Don’t Cut It

Over 100 state and national organizations representing over 50 million Americans has formed the Strengthen Social Security coalition to send a strong message to politicians who are on a mission to cut Social Security benefits: Don’t mess with it. Despite what you’re hearing from Democratic and Republican deficit hawks and President Obama’s Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, Social Security doesn’t add one penny to the deficit. It shouldn’t even be part of the deficit conversation. “Social Security has not contributed to the deficit up to this point and will not up through 2037,” says Paul Van de Water, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a non-profit organization that works on federal and state fiscal policies and public programs affecting low- and moderate-income Americans.

Press play to listen to Your Call with Rose Aguilar: “Social Security Coalition: Don’t Cut It”:

Press play to listen to Your Call with Rose Aguilar: “Social Security Coalition: Don’t Cut It”:

Last week, the Social Security Board of Trustees released its annual report on the financial health of the Social Security Trust Fund. Under the best estimates, the report found that we have sufficient funds to meet all promises through 2037. After that, we have 78 cents coming in from every dollar promised. Even if Congress did nothing until 2037, the program would pay out 78 percent of what’s been promised.

In a recent Neiman Watchdog article, Strengthen Social Security co-chair Eric Kingson writes, “To put things into perspective: Social Security’s entire projected shortfall is just 0.7 percent of Gross Domestic Product — about the same amount it would cost to extend the top Bush tax cuts for the top one percent of the nation’s wealthiest persons.”

The coalition, which includes the NAACP, the American Association of People with Disabilities, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and the National Women’s Law Center, stands behind seven principles: Social Security did not cause the federal deficit; its benefits should not be cut to reduce the deficit; Social Security should not be privatized in whole or in part; Social Security should not be means-tested; Congress should act in the coming few years to close Social Security’s funding gap by requiring those who are most able to afford it to pay somewhat more; Social Security’s retirement age, already scheduled to increase from 65 to 67, should not be raised further; Social Security’s benefits should not be reduced; and Social Security’s benefits should be increased for those who are most disadvantaged.

August 14th marks the 75th anniversary of Social Security. It was established by President Franklin Roosevelt to reduce poverty among seniors and alleviate the Great Depression. Benefits for survivors of deceased workers were added in 1939. Benefits for the disabled were added in 1956. Today, Social Security is the most popular government program that actually serves the people.

Almost 54 million Americans, including 4.3 million children, collect benefits. Nearly one-third of the beneficiaries are children, disabled workers, and survivors of deceased workers. For many individuals and families, Social Security is their only source of income. Deficit hawks can’t dispute the fact that Social Security keeps 20 million Americans out of poverty. Benefits average $13,000 a year, but depending on income levels and financial situations, the average is lower.

A record 2.74 million people filed for Social Security last year. The economic crisis forced almost 75 percent of women and men to file for early benefits. Paul Van de Water says because so many pension plans are being reduced or eliminated, Social Security is even more important today than it was a few decades ago. “For most workers, Social Security is going to be the only defined benefit element of their retirement income,” he says.

Your Call received several emails and phone calls from people whose livelihoods depend on Social Security. Denise in San Francisco writes, “My mother was able to live independently to her last because of Social Security. She did not want to live in beautiful San Francisco with me but in beautiful New York where she was born. What better gift than to live comfortably without burdening children or state institutions. May Social Security have a long prosperous life.”

Sheila Goldmacher, 76, writes that Social Security “has been the bedrock of secure retirement for millions of Americans. Together with my pension and savings it has made me feel safe and secure in the knowledge that at 76 I am not a burden on my family. For 75 years it has helped millions of Americans stay out of poverty and will continue to do so with just a little tweaking like raising the cap or eliminating it entirely. I know many seniors and disabled folk who are kept from homelessness because of this program and my own mother and sister were aided immensely when my father died at the age of 58 and my sister was only 13 years of age.

According to the latest figures I heard in a speech on August 7, 2010, given by James Roosevelt, a grandson of FDR, there is a $2.4 trillion surplus in the Social Security trust fund. It has never been part of the budget and did not create the horrific crisis we all face now. That was done, as we all know, by Wall Street and big banks’ greed which has not abated! It is shameful that most media have failed to report the truth up to now.”

On today’s Your Call, we continue our Agenda for a New Economy series by talking about this 75-year-old program, which continues to provide economic security to millions of Americans. How was it created? Who pushed for it? What is the state of Social Security today? For the past 30 years, there’s been a push to cut the program and raise the retirement age. How is the new Strengthen Social Security coalition planning to respond?

Guests:

Eric Kingson is co-chair of Strengthen Social Security, Professor of Social Work at Syracuse University, and co-director of Social Security Works. Their mission is to protect and improve the economic status of disadvantaged and at-risk populations.

Dr. Paul Van de Water is Senior Fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, where he specializes in Medicare, Social Security, and health. From 2001 to 2005, Dr. Van De Water served as Assistant Deputy Commissioner for Policy at the Social Security Administration, where he managed the agency’s policy analysis, research, and statistical activities.

Rose Aguilar is the host of “Your Call,” a daily call-in radio show on KALW 91.7 FM in San Francisco and on KUSP 88.9 FM in Santa Cruz. She is author of “Red Highways: A Liberal’s Journey Into the Heartland.”