Seniors, Social Security and scare tactics

By Sheila Jackson, Greer SC
SC Alliance for Retired Americans

There is an attempt to frighten us all into accepting political prevarications. It goes like this: Don’t pay any attention to what we are trying to do to Social Security because its not going to be there when you young people retire anyway. We’re trying to save it. We’ll privatize it and the wonderful, infallible free market system of the purely motivated moguls of Wall Street will take good care of you. As opposed to the wasteful inefficient federal government which never does anything right.

Medicare is poorly administered and is therefore too expensive. We’ll get rid of it and give you vouchers to buy insurance on the open market. And for-profit insurance companies will gladly insure you at a reasonable, never increasing premium rate regardless of your health.

I have received my Social Security check on the third Wednesday of every month for the past 10 years. It has never failed to be there. Medicare has never failed to pay what it has promised to pay. Both administered by the federal government.

There are politicians who are funded and controlled by people who profit from the continuing redistribution of wealth from the shrinking middle class to the top 1% — who already control over a quarter of the nation’s wealth. These politicians oppose allowing the top tax rate to return to 39% even though it would hurt no one and preclude raiding the self-funding Social Security trust fund. They prefer instead to yell panic, accuse seniors of being greedy and to do all that they can to destroy something that has worked so phenomenally well to produce a healthy middle class.

Alliance for Retired Americans sends joint letter to President urging him to protect Social Security

President Barack Obama
The White House
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:
We write you as the national officers and the presidents of the state chapters of the Alliance for Retired Americans, a national organization of four million members dedicated to securing a better quality of life for all Americans in retirement. We believe that you have the opportunity to renew the nation’s commitment to the Social Security program during the State of the Union Address next week.

Mr. President, Social Security, which just celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2010, is the nation’s premier social insurance program. It has provided economic security for millions of Americans of all ages across the last 75 years. From the nation’s youngest, who have lost a parent, to the oldest, who live in retirement, Social Security has been a constant, positive force in our nation’s life. Now, Social Security benefits go to nearly one in four American households.

Without the guaranteed benefits of the program, nearly half of older and disabled Americans would live in poverty. No other program, funded entirely by worker and employer contributions and without government funds, has had such a long lasting positive impact on American life. We are concerned, Mr. President, that many in Washington will try to take advantage of the nation’s current debt situation and cause permanent damage to the Social Security program.

As the Co-Chairs of the Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform recently pointed out, the Social Security program has not contributed at all to the nation’s debt. While we disagree with many of the Co-Chairs’ Social Security recommendations, such as raising the retirement age and cutting benefits for current and future retirees, the fact remains that the current debt situation should not be a political cover for attacking the Social Security program. We strongly urge you to resist such efforts.

We urge you to speak forcefully in favor of a strengthened Social Security program. We recognize that long term efforts will be necessary to keep the program financially sound as well as being able to provide benefits that are adequate to maintain a dignified quality of life. However, the debate over the current debt situation is not the forum for debating the future of Social Security. We applaud your leadership on vital issues such as health care reform which has benefited our members. We believe you are now in a position to demonstrate that same leadership on behalf of the Social Security program.

Sincerely,

Barbara J. Easterling, President

Ruben Burks, Secretary-Treasurer

Edward F. Coyle, Executive Director

Douglas Hart, President
Arizona Alliance for Retired Americans

Nan Brasmer, President
California Alliance for Retired Americans

Vivian Stovall, President
Colorado Alliance for Retired Americans

Cal Bunnell, President
Connecticut Alliance for Retired Americans

Tony Fransetta, President
Florida Alliance for Retired Americans

Kenny Bradford, President
Georgia Alliance for Retired Americans

Al Hamai, President
Hawaii Alliance for Retired Americans

Barbara Franklin, President
Illinois Alliance for Retired Americans

Elmer Blankenship, President
Indiana Alliance for Retired Americans

Don Rowen, President
Iowa Alliance for Retired Americans

Mike Vivirito, President
Maryland/DC Alliance for Retired Americans

Dan Mikel, President
Minnesota Alliance for Retired Americans

David R. Meinell, President
Missouri Alliance for Retired Americans

Mike Owens, President
Missouri Alliance for Ret Americans Ed Fund

Bob Biel, President
Nebraska Alliance for Retired Americans

Scott Watts, President
Nevada Alliance for Retired Americans

Charlie Balban, President
New Hampshire Alliance for Retired Americans

Barbara Pardo, President
New Mexico Alliance for Retired Americans

Jim Wood, President
New York Alliance for Retired Americans

John Newman, President
North Carolina Alliance for Retired Americans

Dave Friesner, President
Ohio Alliance for Retired Americans

Jerry Morris, President
Oregon Alliance for Retired Americans

Jean Friday, President
Pennsylvania Alliance for Retired Americans

John Pernorio, President
Rhode Island Alliance for Retired Americans

Julie Harbin, President
South Carolina Alliance for Retired Americans

Shane Fox, President
Texas Alliance for Retired Americans

John Bloch, President
Vermont Alliance for Retired Americans

Mike Warren, President
Washington Alliance for Retired Americans

Sterling Ball, President
West Virginia Alliance for Retired Americans

Leon Burzynski, President
Wisconsin Alliance for Retired Americans

Public invited to luncheon forum on Social Security and Medicare Jan. 19 in Myrtle Beach

In politics, if you aren’t sitting at the table, you’re probably on the menu. Today, seniors are on the menu. They need a seat at the table.

Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and state health programs are on the chopping block. Come learn the facts at a public forum Jan. 19, 12:30-2pm at the Myrtle Beach Recreation Center, 800 Gabreski Lane, Myrtle Beach.

The program will lay out what’s happening in both Washington and Columbia that impacts the health and welfare of SC’s seniors.

“This is a great opportunity for retirees to find out more about policy decisions that stand to affect them and their families,” said SC Alliance for Retired Americans President Julie Harbin. “We want to inform and empower seniors to be their own best advocates.”

Brett Bursey, SC Alliance for Retired Americans Vice-President, will talk about pending cuts to Medicaid and a South Carolina grassroots campaign to stop them.

Robert Kearney and Bill Cea of the national Alliance for Retired Americans will discuss threats to Social Security and health care reform, and what the Alliance is doing to protect them.

The public is invited to enjoy free East of Chicago Pizza and tea.

For details, call 803-957-8740 or email scalliance@mindspring.com.

South Carolina veteran rips US Sen. Alan Simpson

SC Alliance for Retired Americans member Sheila Jackson, of Greenville, SC, is not amused by US Sen. Alan Simpson, chair of the President’s Deficit Commission, who recently called Social Security a “milk cow with 310 million tits.”

Keeping the promise between generations

By Becci Robbins
SC Alliance for Retired Americnas

Seventy-five years ago this week, FDR signed the Social Security Act into law. As senior and retiree groups threw parties across the country to mark the occasion, opponents of Social Security continued their multimillion dollar campaign to fool the public into believing that benefits for seniors must be cut to reduce the deficit.

It is a cruel message that puts the burden of fixing the country’s financial problems on the backs of seniors and people with disabilities. It is also dishonest.

They don’t blame our economic problems on Wall Street bailouts, tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans or funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And they won’t tell you that Social Security’s solvency can be resolved with small adjustments, such as raising the payroll tax cap on Social Security taxes for the wealthy or by freezing the estate tax and applying that money to the program.

Those who depend on Social Security — or love someone who does — would do well to pay attention to what’s going on. The next couple of months are critical.

In December, President Obama’s Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform will offer to Congress its recommendations on how to reduce the deficit. Given the make-up of the body, it’s likely that Social Security and Medicare will be targets.

The Commission’s co-chair, for one, famously described older Americans as “greedy geezers” and supported efforts to privatize Social Security. If he’d had his way, those investment accounts by now would have lost 20 percent of their value.

While the Commission has several other known foes of entitlement programs, it also includes US Rep. John Spratt, who promises to continue to work to keep Social Security strong for future generations. South Carolina voters have a unique opportunity to engage their family, their neighbors and the congressman on this matter to make sure he stays true to his commitment.

Social Security, funded with taxes paid by workers and their employers, is a promise between generations that belongs to the people who have worked hard their whole lives to provide for their families.

The program is critical to many of South Carolina’s retirees and their spouses. Don Thacker, 80, says Social Security and Medicare allow him to live at home and get medical care as an outpatient. “Many people live on very limited incomes in South Carolina and have to make choices between food and medicine,” he said. “These programs make a difference.”

Columbia resident Ruby James says, “I worked for many years and then became disabled. I’m able to live now off of my Social Security.” Her daughter’s husband died at a young age, leaving her with three children, one with a disability. Social Security benefits helped two of those children finish college.

Without Social Security, 19.8 million more Americans would be poor, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Without Social Security, 45.2 percent of elderly Americans would live below the poverty line.

But Social Security doesn’t just benefit seniors; children and people with disabilities also depend on the program. The program lifts more than 1 million children out of poverty. And it is is the most important source of income for the 112,000 children living in South Carolina’s grandfamilies, households headed by a grandparent or other relative.

Sue Berkowitz says that her husband and a former roommate would not have been able to attend college if not for Social Security benefits. “So even though we were prior to retirement age, I know two people who are dear to me who it helped.”

While the debate rages about how to manage our national deficit, the loudest voices are spreading fear and misinformation. The rest of us need to make our own voices heard at the polls in November.

Becci Robbins is an organizer with the SC Alliance for Retired Americans. For details about the organization, email scalliance@mindspring.com.

SC AFL-CIO President Donna Dewitt and SC Progressive Network Director Brett Bursey honor US Congressman John Spratt with a plaque at a SC Allilance for Retired Americans party celebrating Social Security’s birthday in Rock Hill on Aug. 13. See more photos here.

On Social Security’s 75th birthday, let’s party with US Congressman John Spratt

To celebrate Social Security’s 75th birthday and honor US Congressman John Spratt for his long service to the Palmetto State, the SC Alliance for Retired Americans invites the public to a party on Friday, Aug. 13, in Rock Hill.

Spratt serves on the President’s Fiscal Reform Commission, which will offer its recommendations to Congress in December that likely will affect programs critical to seniors. Given the make-up of the Commission, the Alliance fears it may vote to cut Social Security benefits or raise the retirement age to reduce the deficit.

Spratt and other guests will talk about the history and current threats to Social Security, and will remind us that the program did not create the deficit and should not be cut to solve it. Social Security has enough money to cover full benefits for nearly 30 years, and has not added a penny to the nation’s budget crisis. In fact, the program is one of America’s greatest success stories, but misinformation has twisted the public debate.

With a $2.6 trillion dollar surplus, Social Security is not bankrupt. The federal government has borrowed most of that to pay for bailouts, two wars, and tax cuts for the wealthy. The government must pay back the loan, as that money belongs to American workers.

Part of Friday’s program will be the release of a new study detailing how much Social Security benefits residents of South Carolina.

The party kicks off at 5:30pm with music by the TransGenerational Jazz Band and free refreshments. Congressman Spratt will speak shortly after 6pm. He will receive a giant card signed by constituents asking him to protect and preserve Social Security and a plaque from the Alliance thanking him for his service.

Someone will get whacking rights to a large “Fat Cat” piñata.

The SC Alliance for Retired Americans thanks our event cosponsors: SC AFL-CIO, SC New Democrats, SC Progressive Network, Rock Hill NAACP, Catawba Central Labor Council, Greater Columbia Central Labor Council.

For details about the event or the SC Alliance for Retired Americans, email scalliance@mindspring.com or call 803-808-3384. Or join us on Facebook.

Top 5 Social Security Myths

#1: Social Security is going broke.

Reality: There is no Social Security crisis. By 2023, Social Security will have a $4.6 trillion surplus (yes, trillion with a ‘T’). It can pay out all scheduled benefits for the next quarter-century with no changes whatsoever. After 2037, it’ll still be able to pay out 75% of scheduled benefits—and again, that’s without any changes. The program started preparing for the Baby Boomers’ retirement decades ago. Anyone who insists Social Security is broke probably wants to break it themselves.

#2: We have to raise the retirement age because people are living longer.

Reality: This is a red-herring to trick you into agreeing to benefit cuts. Retirees are living about the same amount of time as they were in the 1930s. The reason average life expectancy is higher is mostly because many fewer people die as children than they did 70 years ago. What’s more, what gains there have been are distributed very unevenly—since 1972, life expectancy increased by 6.5 years for workers in the top half of the income brackets, but by less than 2 years for those in the bottom half. But those intent on cutting Social Security love this argument because raising the retirement age is the same as an across-the-board benefit cut.

FDR signs Social Security Act

#3: Benefit cuts are the only way to fix Social Security.

Reality: Social Security doesn’t need to be fixed. But if we want to strengthen it, here’s a better way: Make the rich pay their fair share.  If the very rich paid taxes on all of their income, Social Security would be sustainable for decades to come. Right now, high earners only pay Social Security taxes on the first $106,000 of their income. But conservatives insist benefit cuts are the only way because they want to protect the super-rich from paying their fair share.

#4: The Social Security Trust Fund has been raided and is full of IOUs

Reality: Not even close to true. The Social Security Trust Fund isn’t full of IOUs, it’s full of U.S. Treasury Bonds. And those bonds are backed by the full faith and credit of the United States. The reason Social Security holds only treasury bonds is the same reason many Americans do: The federal government has never missed a single interest payment on its debts. President Bush wanted to put Social Security funds in the stock market—which would have been disastrous—but luckily, he failed. So the trillions of dollars in the Social Security Trust Fund, which are separate from the regular budget, are as safe as can be.

#5: Social Security adds to the deficit

Reality: It’s not just wrong—it’s impossible!  By law, Social Security’s funds are separate from the budget, and it must pay its own way. That means that Social Security can’t add one penny to the deficit.

Find out how you can help protect Social Security by contacting the SC Alliance for Retired Americans at scalliance@mindspring.com.

America Speaks Back

By Becci Robbins
SC Alliance for Retired Americans organizer

Some 700 South Carolinians gathered last Saturday in the big hall of the convention center in Columbia to talk about the deficit. No kidding. They could have been grilling or napping or swimming on a lazy summer day, but instead they chose to spend six hours huddled around tables and grappling with this country’s fiscal crisis. The average age in the room was 58.

That sort of civic engagement speaks volumes about our community, and that is very good news.

Unfortunately, the folks who turned out for the Columbia event — and the thousands like them who participated in 60 other cities across the country — may simply be pawns in a larger game staged by powerful forces trying to shape the national discussion on our economic policy.

The much-hyped “town hall” meetings were the product of America Speaks, a group funded by Wall Street fat cat Peter G. Peterson, whose proclaimed mission is to privatize Social Security. It was Peterson who urged President Obama to create the Fiscal Reform Commission — the body that is to receive on June 30 a special report culled from the results of last weekend’s town halls. In December, the Commission will offer its recommendations to Congress, which will then vote — with no debate.

Participants at the America Speaks events were given hand-held devices to record votes on items outlined in our workbooks. We sat at tables made up of 8 to 12 people, and discussed our votes as a group before we cast our individual votes. While we could create our own options if we didn’t feel satisfied by what we had to choose from, these alternative options were not recorded in the electronic tally.

Our table, for instance, unanimously supported the idea of single-payer as the best fix for our health care system, but that was not an option on the table. We objected to a process that did not include the one option we thought most viable and responsible. But our electronic votes did not — and in fact could not — reflect our true wishes.

The discussion became, then, not whether to cut services, benefits and entitlements, but by how much, and to whom. The workbooks offered background information about the deficit and economic projections that were misleading.

Social Security, for instance, does not contribute a penny to the deficit yet was on the chopping block for cuts. Given the false parameters, participants at the America Speaks events voted to raise the retirement age for full benefits to 69, never mind the system is fully funded well beyond 2025.

And while the workbooks at the America Speaks events did say the rising costs of Medicare and Medicaid are fueled by a health care system that is unsustainable and costing twice as much per person than in any other country, reforming health care was not an option.

“We’re playing with a stacked deck,” said SC Alliance for Retired Americans Vice-President Brett Bursey, who attended the event in Columbia. “We’re going to end up with results that are manipulated by those that framed the question.”

He said, “There is no mention of the fact that the war budget is one of the reasons we have this tremendous deficit. There is nothing about the housing bubble causing a $4 trillion hole in the budget that was due to financial mismanagement. So the things that created the situation are not even on the table to be discussed.”

America Speaks challenged participants to find ways to cut the deficit by $1.25 trillion by 2025.

“Single payer and negotiations for prescription drug prices could reduce the budget by $1.25 trillion by 2025,” Bursey said, quoting figures from the Congressional Budget Office that weren’t in the workbook.

According to the Center for Responsible Economic Policy, an infinitesimal tax on all Wall Street transactions could yield $300 billion. America Speaks option was to raise $30 billion with a tax only on standard stock transactions, not the exotic derivatives or default swaps that helped bring on our current economic crisis.

We can only hope that the President’s Fiscal Reform Commission is as thoughtful as Saturday’s participants when they go looking for their $1.25 trillion to plug the hole.

Becci Robbins is the state organizer for the South Carolina Alliance for Retired Americans. For more about the Alliance, call 803-957-8740 or email scalliance@mindspring.com.

Seniors first to benefit from new health law with $250 rebate checks

Last year, about 61,000 Medicare beneficiaries in South Carolina hit the “donut hole” — the gap in prescription drug coverage in Medicare Part D — and as a result received no help with the cost of their medications.

That’s what happened to 72-year-old Mary Edna Crider of St. Matthews, SC. And it wasn’t the first time.

Crider, who has diabetes and suffers from a heart condition, said last year she hit the donut hole in early summer. “This year we were into it by April,” she said.

“I take a good bit of medication,” she said, and estimates they cost between $700-$800 a month. “My husband gets a good retirement check, but we have other expenses and the money doesn’t go that far. We get by.”

Crider will be among Medicare beneficiaries who, beginning this week, will receive a $250 rebate check in the mail from the government as part of the new health care law. “I think it’s good,” she said. “I’ll put it up to buy medicine.”

Medicare enrollees pay 25 percent of their prescription drug costs until the total reaches $2,830 for the year. Then they fall into the coverage gap known as the “donut hole” and have to pay a total of $4,550 in out-of-pocket prescription drug expenses before the plan resumes paying nearly 100 percent of drug costs. Some 4 million seniors will be in the donut hole this year, and will become eligible to receive rebate checks.

The rebate checks are the first of several provisions of the new law that will affect seniors. Throughout the rest of the year, seniors across the country will receive checks as they enter the coverage gap.  The law will close the gap over the next 10 years, cutting the donut hole in half by 2011 and eliminating it entirely in 2020.

“The new health care law offers lots of benefits for seniors,” said Julie Harbin, President of the South Carolina Alliance for Retired Americans. “It stops overpayments to private Medicare Advantage insurance companies that have made huge profits while causing millions of Americans to pay higher monthly premiums for their Medicare coverage.”

The law also protects nursing home residents against elder abuse and neglect, and it prevents discrimination against early retirees by health insurance companies.

Crider hopes the health care reforms help the people she sees at the drug store. “Bless their hearts, some of them don’t have enough money to buy a full prescription, but the pharmacy won’t let them buy half. I’d go out of business working there. I’d be giving people what they need.”

While Crider has not had to go without her medications, she isn’t above asking her doctor for free samples. As she says, every little bit helps.

For more about the South Carolina Alliance for Retired Americans, call 803-957-8740 or email scalliance@mindspring.com.

President Obama to speak via televised town hall on how the new health care law affects seniors

On June 8, 11:15am – 12:45pm, the Alliance for Retired Americans will take part in a one-time, national “tele-town hall” broadcast on C-SPAN and on-line via web streaming at www.healthreform.gov. In South Carolina, Alliance members and allies are invited to watch the event together at the Modjeska Simkins House, 2025 Marion St., downtown Columbia. Free snacks and beverages provided, or bring your own bag lunch. There is a deli across the street.

President Obama will field questions regarding the new health care law and how it benefits seniors. Topics to be covered include the $250 checks for seniors caught in the Medicare prescription drug “doughnut hole” coverage gap, and efforts to combat scams associated with those checks. The CSPAN and phone portion of the town hall will start at 11:15 with Sec. Sebelius.The President will come on at approximately 11:40, and will speak until about 12:45.

For details, call 803-808-3384 or email scalliance@mindspring.com.

SC Alliance for Retired Americans talk shop

The SC Alliance for Retired Americans held an informational drop-in on May 20 at the Modjeska Simkins House in Columbia. The national Alliance’s Bob Kearney and regional director Bill Cea outlined some of the more pressing issues facing seniors and retirees in 2010, including the new health care law, the Fiscal Commission and efforts to privatize Social Security.

SC ARA is one of 30 Alliance chapters in the country. To find out more or to get involved, email scalliance@mindspring.com or call 803-957-8740.


Bill Cea


Bob Kearney

Click here to see more photos from the drop-in.

Care about seniors?

Get off the couch, and get active with the SC Alliance for Retired Americans!

Join us for a casual drop-in May 20, 5–6:30 pm

Modjeska Simkins House  •  2025 Marion St., Columbia

Hear Bob Kearney of the national Alliance for Retired Americans
talk about the most critical issues facing seniors in 2010.

The SC Alliance for Retired Americans needs YOU to help educate, energize and mobilize retirees and seniors in the Palmetto State. Join us, and help protect the health and economic security of South Carolina’s older citizens.

FREE and open to the public! Enjoy snacks, beverages and live music.

For more information, call 803-957-8740 or email becci@scpronet.com.

SC Retirees Must Keep Sharp Eye on New Spending Panel

A new federal commission is meeting for the first time today in Washington, and Julie Harbin, president of the South Carolina Alliance for Retired Americans (the newest member of the SC Progressive Network), is encouraging retirees in the Palmetto State to pay close attention in the coming months.

The panel, the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, is a bi-partisan group charged with recommending ways to lower the federal debt. US Congressman John Spratt serves on the Commission, which will offer its recommendations in December.

Harbin fully supports the goals of the Commission, but is deeply concerned that some are urging the panel to recommend changes in Social Security as a way to reduce the federal deficit. “If the commission takes a thorough and honest look at Social Security, it will see one of our nation’s greatest success stories. Social Security has helped generations of retirees stay out of poverty. South Carolina’s retirees want to make sure that Social Security remains strong for our children and grandchildren,” Harbin said. She noted that for over 25 percent of retirees, Social Security is their only source of income. With an average monthly benefit of only $1,164, she said that Social Security is, “a tenuous lifeline for many seniors.”

Harbin said that Social Security did not cause our large deficits. Since 1983, American workers have paid enough Social Security payroll taxes to accumulate a $2.5 trillion surplus in the Social Security Trust Fund. But between 2001 and 2006, Washington gave away $2.48 trillion in tax cuts.

To help retirees better follow the panel’s work, the Alliance for Retired Americans has written the Commission to urge that its work be conducted in open, televised sessions and that it hold field hearings across the country to listen to public testimony.

SC Alliance for Retired Americans President Julie Harbin.