Can Trump Politically Survive Cutting Social Security’s Payroll Tax?

Published in the Pawtucket Times on May 11, 2020

As Congress begins to hammer out the fifth coronavirus stimulus package to continue its efforts to jump start the nation’s economy, President Donald Trump warns he will not sign any bill that does not include a payroll tax cut.

“We’re not doing anything without a payroll tax cut,” Trump bluntly warns at a two-hour “virtual town hall” event hosted by Fox News, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. According to Nielson Media Research, nearly 4 million viewers tuned into this the town hall, entitled “America Together: Returning to Work,” aired on May 3, that focused on COVID-19 and the reopening of the nation’s economy.

Aging advocates and Democratic lawmakers charge that trump is using the virus pandemic as an excuse to slash payroll contributions, Social Security’s dedicated funding. Cutting the Social Security payroll taxes would reduce the amount of money withheld from employee paychecks, increasing their take-home pay.

Payroll Tax Cuts: Reducing Social Security’s Financial Stability

The Washington, DC-based National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) quickly released a statement warning that Trump’s efforts to remove the payroll tax by a provision in the next COVID-19 stimulus package will ensure the fiscal insolvency of Social Security, threatening the program’s ability to continue paying benefits to 64 million Americans who depend on those benefits to financially survive their retirement years.

“President Trump set off alarm bells for America’s seniors and their advocates by insisting once again on eliminating Social Security payroll taxes – both employer and worker contributions. The President even threatened to hold hostage the next phase of badly-needed Coronavirus relief legislation unless he gets his reckless payroll tax cuts. Make no mistake: by pushing to cut off the program’s funding stream, President Trump is taking the first step toward dismantling Social Security, says NCPSSM’s president and CEO, Max Richtman in a statement.
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“While we agree that providing tax relief to middle class Americans is an important consideration as we respond to Coronavirus pandemic, we do not believe that cutting, eliminating or deferring the Social Security payroll tax is an appropriate way to accomplish this goal, says Richtman.

In an April 24 correspondence to Trump, NCPSSM’s top official reminded the president that Social Security is an earned benefit fully funded by the contributions of workers throughout their working lives. He pointed out that a payroll tax cut is an assault on that fundamental idea, equally true even if the funds are replaced by general revenues from the Treasury.

In his correspondence, Richtman suggests that a payroll tax cut should not be viewed as an economic stimulus because it leaves out large segments of the population. “Large numbers of federal, state and local government workers do not pay into Social Security, and therefore would not benefit from the payroll tax cut. Ironically, the senior population, those who are directly affected by taking their money from the trust fund, will not see a single dime of relief since most of them are not working,” he note.

Richtman also identified alternatives to the payroll tax cut that he believes would be more targeted and effective to fire up an economy slowed by the spread of the coronavirus. “Another one-time payment by the federal government can put money in the hands of taxpayers quickly, and the Making Work Pay Tax Credit can be passed by Congress rapidly as can an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit. Spending in other programs that directly help those who lose employment as a result of the virus can be the most targeted relief of all,” he suggests.

“In light of the recent Social Security Trustees report, it is clear that Social Security needs more revenue – not less,” observes Richtman, who served as a former staff director of the Senate Special Aging Committee.
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“The President’s campaign to eliminate payroll taxes is a violation of his patently false promises to seniors ‘not to touch’ Social Security. This proposal goes way beyond ‘touching.’ Choking off Social Security’s funding stream is an existential threat to seniors’ earned benefits,” charges Richtman.

Nancy Altman, president of Social Security Works, came out swinging when she heard Trump stating that he will block all coronavirus response measures unless they include cuts to the payroll tax, whose revenue is dedicated to Social Security.

In a statement, Altman stated: “More than 30 million Americans are newly unemployed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Their paychecks are gone, but their rent, utility, grocery bills and other expenses still must be paid. Seniors in nursing homes are dying at alarming rates. Hospitals are desperate, as are state and local governments.”

Dead on Arrival on Capitol Hill????

“Trump made it clear weeks ago that his obsession with cutting payroll contributions has nothing to do with the coronavirus or the resulting economic fallout,” says Altman, noting that he said he’d like a “permanent” reduction in payroll contributions, and that he’d support it “regardless” of the current situation. He has also said he wants to cut Social Security once he is re-elected, she added.

While Democratic lawmakers push for strengthening and expanding the Social Security Program, GOP lawmakers are signaling their opposition and aversion to risking political capital on supporting Trump’s efforts to cut the payroll tax. Trump’s calls for this tax policy change are falling on deaf ears. According to Politico, when asked if he supports Trump’s ultimatum that a payroll tax must be placed in the next stimulus package, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the Senate Finance Committee chair, responded, “Right now, not much.”

“I’m going to give it due consideration, if I can see a strong group of people who think it’s the right thing to do,” added Grassley, whose Senate committee oversees federal tax policy, in the May 5 Politico article. “The president proposes, we dispose,” he quips.

Although Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel (R-Kentucky) is not ruling out payroll tax cuts, he is focusing his efforts to put liability protections provisions in the next major stimulus package to protect businesses against virus-related lawsuits from workers, stockholders, and consumers.

Stepping on the “Third Rail”

Political insiders consider Social Security to be the “third rail of a nations politics.” Wikipedia states that this metaphor comes from the high-voltage third rail in some electric railway systems. Stepping on it usually results in electrocution and the use of the term in the political arena refers to “political death.”

At an Iowa campaign rally in 2016, Republican presidential candidate Trump boasted that his loyal voter base would still standby him even if he shot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue in New York City. Many political pundits responded to his comment by rolling their eyes and chuckling.
Can Trump politically survive, keeping his loyal voter base, if he steps on the “third rail” by continuing his efforts to cut Social Security’s payroll taxes, pushing the program toward fiscal insolvency. When the dust settles after the upcoming November 2020 elections, we’ll see if the older voters consider Social Security an untouchable program.

Great Futures Start at Boys and Girls Club of Pawtucket

Published in Pawtucket Times, May 24, 2013

Founded over 113 years ago, more than 100,000 youngsters have come through the doors of the Boys and Girls Club of Pawtucket (BGCP). The lives of these young children, most coming from blue-collar families, were shaped by the opportunity of daily contact with adult mentors. They also developed friendship and camaraderie with their young peers, all this giving them life lessons that would ultimately propel them into successful careers.

Learning Valuable Life Lessons.

Daniel Brito, 42, executive director of Blackstone Valley Youth & Family Collaborative, Inc., formerly from Pawtucket’s Woodlawn neighborhood, now living with his wife, Jane, a graphic designer, and 11-year-old daughter, Alivia in East Providence, remembers his younger days at the Pawtucket Club.

For over a decade, Brito, a nonprofit executive, oversees an agency that provides residential and community based supports to adolescent males ages 17-21. Currently his staff of 25 employees provide services to 20 clients, this funded by the State of Rhode Island, Department of Children Youth & Families. The young man has also worked in the fields of business development, project management, construction, customer service, social work, and even co-owned three Dunkin Donuts in Maryland.

In 1977, Brito, age 7, began his membership at the Pawtucket Club, including attending summer camp, with John his eleven year old brother. Brito, states his father, a merchant marine and mother, a worker at Monet Jewelry, enrolled their young boys at the BGCP to give them an opportunity to participate in supervised activities rather than just letting them play at the park or on the street.

Over the years, Brito’s involvement with the Club would evolve into becoming an employee for six years. He was named “Youth of The Year”, in 1988 and continues to assist as a judge in the annual youth of the year competition.

According to Brito, being a BGCP member for 15 years gave him the life skills to succeed in life. Personal attention from staff enhanced his self-esteem, even their constant encouragement to attend college along with their “real life advice” were key factors that pushed him into attending college, where he ultimately was awarded a Bachelor of Art Degree in Elementary Education from Rhode Island College. He is the first in his family to attend college.

Team sport activities, overseen by the late Mike Pappas, along with young Jim Hoyt and Peter Lavellee, even had an impact on his future management style, that is “the benefit of team work far out weighs the benefit of working as an individual.”

Being a BGCP Trustee and member of its Governance Committee and as well as a Board member of Cape Verdean American Community Development Agency, allows him to give back to the current BGCP members and to his cultural community.

Pushing Yourself, “Never Say Can’t”

As Brito, Kristin Lyons, 43, a licensed clinical social work with 20 years working in the Domestic Violence field, who serves as Executive Director of the Providence-based Women’s Center of Rhode Island, became involved with the BGCP at age 6, living at that time in Pawtucket’s Darlington neighborhood.

Lyons and her sister, Susan, would join the BGCP to learn the art of swimming at its East Avenue site. She would ultimately swim on its swim team, receiving awards and recognition, beginning at elementary school ending with her graduation at Tolman High School.

Being on the swim team taught the young child to understand the importance of being part of the team. “Obviously you improved yourself individually but you worked for the team,” she said. More over, she vividly remembers Hoyt, teaching her to never use the word “can’t.” This taught Lyons to push herself as far as she could and not give up. “A very good life lesson,” she says, noting that “You have to think you can do it if you want to succeed with your goals and work toward your dreams.”

“Being part of a community, being a member of the swim team family, and having adult role models around were important for me reaching my goals,” said Lyons. Her parents would both volunteer at swimming meets, her father being a judge and timer and her mother also timing, working concessions and helping with score keeping.

Lyons claims the BGCP taught her to work hard to achieve her goals, one being attending college. She would graduate from Northeastern University with a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice in 1993 and from Salem State College with a Master of Social Work in 2000. She was a member of the 2006 Leadership Rhode Island Class.

Now, serving as BGCP’s second vice president, after her service as a trustee and board member for six years, Lyons works tirelessly to ensure that the nonprofit group can meet the needs of future generations. .

A Life-Time Commitment

Seventy-three-year old, Philip A. Ayoub, owner of Pawtucket-based Ayoub Engineering, has very long ties with the Club, that is over 67 years.

The respected civil engineer, also a Pawtucket Hall of Fame and BGCP Hall of Fame inductee, became a BGCP member at age 6, along with his two brothers Naseem, age 7, and Edward, age 5. He remembered at the time he became a member in 1946, there was no emphasis on education, only vocational trades, such as printing and woodworking, and sports activities. The late Mike Pappas taught him to have respect for authority, to take responsibility for his actions, along with giving him an opportunity to participate in “honest [sports] competition.” He learned how to interact with “kids he did not know,” who came from different backgrounds and ethnicities.

Heeding his parents’ advice that “to have a good life you need an education,” Ayoub would receive a Bachelor of Science Degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Rhode Island.

While his many awards he received at the BGCP are packed up, he has proudly hung in his office pictures of him being recognized as the Boy of the Year in 1953, and his BGCP Service to Youth Awards, from serving 20 plus years on the Board including being its President for two consecutive, three year terms.

Says Ayoub, “For me, my interest in the Club when I reached a level of professional success was to give something back. The more involved I became with the Club, the more inspired I became seeing young children developing into mature, responsible citizens.”

Thoughts from the Top Exec

Jim Hoyt, the BGCP’s long-time chief executive officer, sees a need for facility improvements to handle a growing membership. Over the last decade, membership has increased from 3,000 to 4,500. Not surprising, daily attendance has jumped, now hovering around 300 children, ages 5-18, coming to the Club daily. Ultimately, with the conclusion of a planned expansion, “we’ll have 500 to 600 kids attending each day after-school.”

Youth join the BGCP for help with homework and tutoring and for assurance from a staff of caring and nurturing youth development professionals. They participate in year-round recreation and sports activities. They enjoy a hot, nutritious meal at dinnertime. They take classes in art, theatre and dance. They learn to use computers. They receive career guidance and advice. They find friendship. They gain self-respect. In essence, they realize their full potential.

The Club is all about providing opportunities to kids, Hoyt says. “We want them to graduate from high school, be good people and contributing members of society, and to live healthy lives,” he remarks, noting that “Everything we do is aimed at these three outcomes.”

Hoyt says, over time, the BGCP has become a highly regarded, award-winning youth development organization with thriving, innovative enrichment and recreational programs and an ever-increasing daily enrollment.

BGCP is moving in the right direction, says Hoyt. “Our board is incredible! They are passionate, engaged, and outstanding examples of what a board should be. Close to half are former members of the Club,” he says.

And, Hoyt notes that his board is 150% behind the current expansion project, donating more than a half a million dollars to this project. “Their timely generosity helped us meet a $1 million challenge grant from The Champlin Foundations,” he says.

Hoyt is pleased that BGCP’s Capital Campaign is on target. “We are exactly where we hoped to be at this point – but we definitely have some work ahead of us as we look to break ground next year. We have raised close to $5.5 Million, with an ultimate goal of $8 Million: $7 Million will be for the Capital Project – with another $1 Million for program endowment to support the increased operations,” he remarks.

The planned expansion will build a Club that will allow the Pawtucket nonprofit to serve more kids, and to serve them better. A newly designed and enhanced Clubhouse will provide a new teen center and gym for teen members, centralized visual and performing arts spaces, better functionality in our pre-teen area which will reduce overcrowding in education, technology, at mealtime, and beyond – and allow for safer, more controlled access to the building.

Once the build out is completed, Hoyt expects to see the daily attendance to jump to around 600 members, with a primary goal of attracting more at-risk teens by doubling the space dedicated to them. Expanded daily service hours for each age group, combined with expanded space, will enhance programming for education and career preparation, the arts, and healthy lifestyles.

Hoyt expects to break ground in March of 2014. The summer will be spent renovating the interior of the existing building so that programming and services can begin again by September. The addition of the new Teen Center will be completed over the course of the Fall, with a ribbon cutting for the new facility in January of 2015.

Today, generations of BGCP members have joined, come and gone. But, positive experiences combined with being provided with the right tools to succeed, have given them a leg up to become successful in their professional careers, contributing to the betterment of society.

For membership and programming information visit http://www.bgcpawt.org or to learn more about the BGCP’s Building Better Futures Capital and Endowment Campaign, call the Club at 401-722-8840 to set up a tour.

Herb Weiss, LRI’12 is a Pawtucket-based writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.