Larson Pushes to Get Social Security Reform Proposal for House Vote

Published in RINewsToday on June 13, 2022

The House Ways and Means Committee is preparing for a full mark-up on H.R. 5723, Social Security 2100: A Sacred Trust, authored by Committee Chairman John B. Larson (D-CT) this summer. Last week Larson held a press conference calling for passage of the legislative proposal. 

The morning press conference, held on June 2nd at the Connecticut AFL-CIO headquarters, based in Rocky Hill, Connecticut, brought together Connecticut AFL-CIO President Ed Hawthorne, Connecticut Alliance for Retired Americans President Bette Marafino, State Senator Matt Lesser, State Senator Saud Anwar, State Representative Amy Morrin Bello to announce the endorsement of H.R. 5723 by the AFL-CIO.  The AFL-CIO is known as the nation’s largest federation of unions, made up of 56 national and international unions, representing more than 12 million active and retired workers.

On the same day, the Social Security Administration released the 2022 Social Security Trustee Report.

According to Larson’s statement, over 200 House Democrats [no Republican has yet to support the proposal], are cosponsoring H.R. 5723. Forty-two national organizations (aging, union, veterans, disability and consumer health organizations) are calling for passage of H.R. 5723, including the Leadership Council on Aging Organizations and the Strengthen Social Security Coalition representing hundreds of national and state aging organizations.

Larson noted that it has been 50 years since Congress acted to expand Social Security benefits. The Connecticut Congressman stated: “By passing Social Security 2100: A Sacred Trust, we can act now to expand our nation’s most effective anti-poverty program and ensure this program remains a ‘sacred trust’ between the government and its people. It is an honor to stand alongside the AFL-CIO today as they announce their support for our legislation.”

“Social Security benefits are a promise made to workers and Social Security 2100 is essential in fulfilling this promise,” said Connecticut AFL-CIO President Ed Hawthorne. He praised Larson’s efforts to repeal the Windfall Elimination Provision that harms Connecticut’s teachers, firefighters, and police officers by reducing social security benefits they earned because they are receiving pensions after years of dedicated public service.

“Retirees and those most vulnerable in our society depend on Social Security to live a life of dignity. The Connecticut AFL-CIO and our over-200,000 members stand in solidarity with Congressman Larson in his fight to ensure Social Security is a promise we keep for generations of Americans to come,” said Hawthorne.

State Senator Saud Anwar, (D-South Windsor) joined Larson and others, too, supporting H.R. 5723. “Social Security has long been an American institution, one relied upon and paid into by countless citizens who receive a promise that they will be taken care of,” said the Connecticut Senate’s Deputy President pro tempore. “We must take action to expand this program and ensure this vital service will remain available for future generations, and Social Security 2100 will do just that. I am grateful for Connecticut’s federal representatives in their work to support our communities, our state and our country,” he said.

Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), who introduced the companion bill to H.R. 5723 in the Senate could not be there, but issued this statement: “As seniors and people with disabilities struggle with the costs of food, housing, and prescription drugs, this bill enhances and expands benefits for millions of Americans who need them. I am proud to stand with my colleagues and union members to support the Social Security 2100 Act, keeping this vital lifeline solvent ensuring our nation’s bedrock social insurance program will continue to provide current and future beneficiaries with a quality standard of living,” said Connecticut’s senior Senator. 

H.R. 5723: The Nuts and Bolts

On Oct. 26, 2021, H.R. 5723 was referred to the House Ways and Means, Education and Labor, and Energy and Commerce Committees, being introduced in the lower chamber that day.

According to a legislative fact sheet, H.R. 5723 gives a benefit bump for current and new Social Security beneficiaries by providing an increase for all beneficiaries (receiving retirement, disability or dependent benefits).

Larson’s Social Security fix also protects Social Security beneficiaries against inflation by adopting a Consumer Price Index for the Elderly (CPI-E), to better reflect the costs incurred by seniors who spend a greater portion of their income on health care and other necessities.

This legislative proposal protects low-income workers by providing a new minimum benefit set at 25% above the poverty line and would be tied to wage levels to ensure that minimum benefits does not fall behind.

It also contains other provisions that seniors and their advocates have sought for years, including:

  • Improving Social Security benefits for widows and widowers in two income households so they are not penalized for having two incomes.
  • Ending the five-month waiting period to receive disability benefits so those with ALS or other severe disabilities no longer have to wait.
  • Providing caregiver credits for Social Security wages to ensure that caregivers are not penalized in retirement for taking timeout of the workforce to care for children and other dependents.
  • Extending Social Security benefits for students to age 26 and for part-time students.
  • Increasing access to Social Security dependents for children who live with grandparents or other relatives.                       

H.R. 5723 would pay for strengthening the Social Security Trust Fund by having millionaires and billionaires pay the same rate as everyone else. Currently, payroll taxes are not collected on an individual wages over $142,800. The legislative proposal would apply payroll taxes to wages above $400,000, only impacting the top 0.04% of wage earners.

Larson’s proposal would also extend the solvency of Social Security by giving Congress more time to ensure long-term solvency of the Trust Fund.  It also cuts long-term shortfalls by more than half.

Finally, H.R. 5723 would combine the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance with Disability Insurance into one Social Security Trust Fund, to ensure all benefits will be paid.

NCPSSM Pushes for Passage

Even with over 200 cosponsors, a Washington insider says that H.R. 5723 may be stalled because of concerns of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) policy staff about the cost of the proposed legislation.  At press time, House lawmakers are waiting for the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office to score the legislation [to determine its cost], this being required to bring it to the House floor for a vote.

In a blog article, posted on May 27th by the Washington, DC-based National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM), seniors are urged to request their House lawmakers, if they are not currently cosponsoring H.R. 5723, to support Larson’s landmark legislation to strengthen Social Security.  According to the NCPSSM, Reps. Cynthia Axne (D-IA) Susie Lee (D-NV) and Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ) are among the 22 Democrats that have not yet sponsored H.R. 5723. With the upcoming mid-term elections just 148 days away, these Democratic lawmakers may fear Republican attacks, accusing them of raising taxes, speculates NCPSSM.

“The more Democratic co-sponsorships the bill garners, the stronger the case that House leadership should bring it to the floor for a vote,” says NCPSSM.

NCPSSM reports that Larson’s Social Security proposal has strong public support. “A poll by Lake Research Partners showed that across party lines, 79% supported paying for an increase in benefits by having wealthy Americans pay the same rate into Social Security as everyone else. A recent survey of our members and supporters indicated 96 percent support for raising the cap,” says the Social Security Advocacy group.

NCPSSM says Larson’s legislative proposal gives Democrats an opportunity to build upon, strengthen, and expanding the Social Security program, created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935. 

Many feel it is time for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to use the power of her office, responding to over 200 Democrats in her Caucus, to bring H.R. 5723 to a House Ways and Means Committee and floor vote.  If the Republicans take control of the House and Senate Chambers, Social Security reform to expand and strengthen Social Security may be in jeopardy, so time is of the essence to supporters to see H.R. 5723 passed and enacted.

AARP Report: Scammers targeting military community

Published on November 15, 2021 in RINewsToday

Just two days before the nation celebrated Veterans Day, the Washington, DC-based AARP issued a report revealing that veterans, active-duty service members, and their families are nearly 40% more likely to lose money to con-artists than the civilian population. According to the new research study, detailed in a 26-page report, 4 out of 5 military/veteran adults were targeted by scams directly related to their military service or the benefits they receive.

Fraud cost veterans, service members and their families more than $338 million in the five years ending in 2019, notes AARP citing Federal Trade Commission (FTC)  data. The median loss for military scam victims in 2019, $894, was nearly triple that for the population at large.

“Our research shows scammers are taking aim at the veteran and military community at alarming rates, emphasizing the importance of staying up-to-date on the latest scams and how to avoid them,” said Troy Broussard, Senior Advisor, AARP Veterans and Military Families Initiative. In a Nov. 9 statement announcing the survey’s findings.“ Knowing the red flags can not only help veterans, military and their families avoid losing money, but also avoid the emotional toll from scams,” he said.

AARP’s report, “Scambush: Military Battle Surprise Attacks from Scams & Fraud,” prepared by Jennifer Sauer, AARP Research and Pete Jeffries, AARP Veterans and Military Family Initiative, noted that scammers will use military jargon and specific government guidelines to craft an effective scam pitch to steal money from military members and veterans. One in three military/veteran adults reported losing money to these types of service-related scams.

Many military/veterans survey respondents fell for the Benefit Buyout scam by turning over U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs pension and/or disability benefits for a supposed lump-sum payment that never materializes (47%). Thirty-two percent admitted they were scammed out of money by paying for updated personal medical records, a service provided for free (Fraudulent records scam). Finally, 32% reported that they donated to fake veteran charities.

According to the AARP report, military/veteran adults also reported losing more money than civilians on the grandparent-impostor scam (more than twice as often) and financial phishing schemes (nearly twice as often). Nearly half of military/veteran adults said they are not using a robocall blocking service and over 1 in 4 have not registered their phone numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry. Finally, 81% of military/veteran adults have not placed a security freeze on their credit report.

Fight Back Against Scams

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) provides helpful tips here: https://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/info-2019/veterans.html?intcmp=AE-FWN-LIB4-POS16 to protect yourself against con artists who call you about your government and service benefits.

Unsolicited calls offering you an increase in your military benefits or access to little-know government programs are likely scams.

Never pay for copies of your military records. These documents are free.

You can confirm if a VA phone call is legitimate by calling the agency directly at 1-800-MYVA411.

Hang up if you receive an unsolicited call from a VA representative asks you for personal information like your Social Security number. Personal data is NEVER requested by either phone or email.

Be cautious on returning calls displayed on your caller ID. Scammers can use technology to change the telephone number, called ID spoofing, to make a call appear it came from a different person or place, or even from someone you know.

VA does not threaten claimants with jail or lawsuits.  If the caller does this, it’s a scam.

When you have a benefits issue, contact a VA-accredited representative. The VA maintains a searchable database of attorneys, claims agents and veterans service organizations.

Take Advantage of These Resources…

AARP’s Fraud Watch Network recommends also recommends the signing up for the National Do Not Call Registry and using a call-blocking service. Additional measures include: using strong and unique passwords for each online account; using two-factor authentication when available; and placing a free security freeze on credit reports at each of the three major credit bureaus. Remember, veterans never have to pay for their service records or earned benefits—if told otherwise, it’s a scam.
 
Operation Protect Veterans—a joint program of the AARP Fraud Watch Network and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service—helps veterans, service members and their families to protect against fraud. The Fraud Watch Network also offers biweekly fraud alerts and a free Helpline (877-908-3360) through which veterans, military and the public can report suspected scams. The AARP Watchdog Alert Handbook: Veterans’ Edition explains 10 ways that con artists target veterans.

AARP’s survey was administered in August 2021 to a total of 1,660 people: 851 active or former U.S. military respondents and 809 non-military (civilian) adults ages 18 and older using NORC’s AmeriSpeak Internet Panel. The margin of error is 4.40% at the 90% confidence level.

To get a copy of  “Scambush: Military Battle Surprise Attacks from Scams & Fraud,” go to https://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/research/surveys_statisti.cs/econ/2021/fraud-scams-military-veterans-report.doi.10.26419-2Fres.00502.001.pdf

For more information and resources for veterans on the latest fraud and scams, visit aarp.org/veterans