Problem Solvers Caucus may be key to re-establishing Committee on Aging

Published in RINewsToday on Jan. 16, 2023

H.R. Res. 583, Reestablishing the Permanent House Select Committee on Aging (HSCoA), chances were growing slim in getting Congressional attention for passage in the final days of the 117th Congress. Extensive media coverage of the ongoing Ukraine War, the wrap up and issuance of the Jan. 6th hearing’s report and midterm election coverage kept Congressman David Cicilline’s (D-RI) resolution from getting political traction from being considered by the House Rules Committee for ultimate passage and floor action.

The HSCoA was a permanent select committee of the U.S. House of Representatives between 1974 and 1992. The committee was initially created with the intent not of crafting legislative proposals, but of conducting investigations and holding hearings to put the Congressional spotlight on aging issues. Its purpose was to push for legislation and other action, working with standing committees, through regular committee channels. If  H. Res. 583 was passed by the House Rules Committee, it would have brought back the HSCoA. No Senate action was required.

According to the Congressional Research Services, it is a very simple process to create an ad hoc (temporary) select committee by just approving a simple resolution that contains language establishing the committee—giving a purpose, defining membership, and detailing other issues that need to be address.  Salaries and expenses of standing committees, special and select, are authorized through the Legislative Branch Appropriations bill.

Taking a Looking Back

Last Congress, Cicilline’s H. Res 583 would reestablish a HSCoA without having legislative jurisdiction, this being no different than when the select committee previously existed. It would be authorized to conduct a continuing comprehensive study and review of aging issues, such as income maintenance, poverty, housing, health (including medical research), welfare, employment, education, recreation, and long-term care. These efforts influenced legislation taken up by standing committees.

H. Res. 583 would authorize the reestablished HSCoA Committee to study the use of all practicable means and methods of encouraging the development of public and private programs and policies which will assist seniors in taking a full part in national life and which will encourage the utilization of the knowledge, skills, special aptitudes, and abilities of seniors to contribute to a better quality of life for all Americans.

It would also allow the HSCoA to develop policies that would encourage the coordination of both governmental and private programs designed to deal with problems of aging and to review any recommendations made by the President or White House Conference on Aging in relation to programs or policies affecting seniors.

Cicilline’s H. Res. 583 drew the support and attention of the Max Richtman, President and CEO of the Washington, DC-based Leadership Council on Aging and a former Staff Director of the Senate Permanent Special Committee on Aging, along with President Nancy Altman of Social Security Works, and Chair of Strengthen Social Security Coalition.   

Robert Weiner, former chief of staff of the HSCoA, Tom Spulak, former staff director and General Counsel of the House Rules Committee and Vin Marzullo, a well-known aging advocate in Rhode Island, including this writer were strong advocates for passage of this resolution.

Although H. Res. 583 had strong backing from the aging network, the bill never was endorsed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi nor considered by the Democratic controlled House Rules Committee As a result, the resolution never reached the House floor for a vote. As a result, the resolution died at the end of the 117th Congressional session.

The House must reestablish the HSCoA

It is now crucial for Cicilline to reach across the aisle for Republican cosponsors when he reintroduces H. Res. 583 during the new Congress. The need for reestablishing this investigative committee still exists today as when it was first introduced eight years ago.

“America’s seniors have spent a lifetime working hard and moving our country forward and they deserve the financially secure retirement that they worked and paid for. The pandemic disproportionately impacted seniors, and now those with fixed incomes are bearing the burden of inflation and the higher costs food, housing, and other essentials,” says Cicilline.

“I’m extremely proud that we were able to institute a $35 cap on insulin costs and bring down prescription and medical costs for seniors through the Inflation Reduction Act, but there is more work to be done. Reauthorizing the House Permanent Select Committee on Aging will give us the dedicated staff and resources necessary to study and address the issues that affect seniors to make sure they can live the rest of their lives with dignity and security,” adds Cicilline.

“It is vitally important that we ensure Rhode Island seniors have the financial security, access to high quality health care and quality of life they have earned. For this reason, I am proud to support the reestablishment of the HSCoA, and encourage my colleagues on both sides of the aisle make senior citizens’ issues a priority in the 118th Congress,” adds newly elected Congressman Seth Magaziner.

In the article, “Senior’s Need House of Reps to Bring Back Aging Committee,” I previously coauthored with Tom Spulak and Robert Weiner on this statewide news blog last July, provides the rational and reasoning for reestablishing the HSCoA.

Specifically…

“Every day, 12,000 Americans turn 60. By 2030, nearly 75 million people in the U.S.—or 20 percent of the country—will be age 65 or older. As America grows older, the need for support and services provided under programs like Social Security, SSI, Medicare, Medicaid and the Older Americans Act also increases,” and the need for re-establishing the HSCoA becomes even more important.”

“Historically, the HSCoA served as a unique venue that allowed open, bipartisan House debate from various ideological and philosophical perspectives to promote consensus that, in turn, helped facilitate the critical work of the standing committees. Addressing the needs of older Americans in a post-pandemic world will require this type of investigative, legislative oversight, work which can only be advanced and promoted by reestablishing the HSCoA.”

“As Americans are aging, we also face a variety of intergenerational concerns that merit the investigation by the HSCoA, such as growing demands on family caregivers and a burgeoning retirement security crisis.”

“Restoring the HSCoA would provide the House with an opportunity to more fully explore a range of aging issues and innovations that cross Standing Committee jurisdiction of importance to both Republicans and Democrats, while holding field hearings, convening remote hearings, engaging communities and promoting understanding and dialogue.”

“Today, the Senate Permanent Special Committee on Aging is working on everything from scams against seniors to increasing HCBS services, to calling out questionable billing practices by Medicare Advantage insurers. Seniors have been better off over the last 30 years with a Senate Aging Committee in existence — and the Senate investigative committee would benefit from a reestablished HSCoA, whose sole mission would be to look out for older American.”

“Over 30 years ago, working closely with authorizing committees with jurisdiction over aging programs and services, the HSCoA put an end to mandatory retirement.  Alzheimer’s became a household word because of its investigative hearings. Legislation was passed to improve the quality of care in the nation’s nursing homes, even creating the nation’s National Institute’s for Health.“

Centralist to play key role in passage 

“This is a unique moment in time where centrists from both sides in the House could influence legislative action thru genuine bipartisan collaboration”, said Vin Marzullo, who served 31 years as a career federal civil rights & social justice administrator at the National Service agency.   “I am urging our newly elected Congressman, Seth Magaziner, to join with the lead sponsor, Congressman David Cicilline, in the re-introduction of the House Resolution to re-establish HSCoA. 

Additionally, I would advise that bipartisan efforts begin by reaching out to Congressmen Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA and Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), co-chairs of the “Problems Solvers Caucus,” for their co-sponsorship/support”, added Marzullo.  “That could be a pathway for better legislating and governing and Congressman Magaziner stated during the campaign that he’d look for common ground with members on the other side of the aisle.  This is it — we need an adult conversation about the Aging of America and how we intend to aid and support our elders, caregivers, and long term care options.”

We’ll see if Cicilline and Magaziner tag-team for a fifth attempt to reestablish the HSCoA.  For the sake of improving the quality of life of America’s seniors, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif) must put politics aside and work with a Bi-Partisan Coalition and the Democratic Caucus, to achieve real results for our nation’s older adults. 

For details about the House Problem Solvers Caucus, go to  https://problemsolverscaucus.house.gov/.

Speaker Pelosi: Bring Larson’s Social Security proposal to a floor vote 

Published in RINewsToday on September 12, 2022

On the 87th Anniversary of Social Security, the Washington, DC based Social Security Works (SSW) hosted a “Social Security Town Hall Meeting” to get the word out about the importance of passing the Social Security 2100: A Sacred Trust. 

The virtual town hall meeting brought together House lawmakers, aging advocates and beneficiaries to send a strong message to House Democratic leadership to support the markup of Congressman John Larson’s (D-CT) social security proposal to expand and strengthen Social Security and send it to the House floor for a vote.

The town hall participants, including host Nancy Altman, President of Social Security Works, Larson, chair of the Social Security Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Peter Morley, Patient Advocate and co-founder of Health Care Awareness month, and John Blair, who chairs the Community Advisory Board, SPACE in Action, strongly supported quick action and passage of the legislative proposal. Additionally, several members of Congress also pre-recorded videos which were played at the end of the town hall meeting.

Town hall participants used the Aug. 15th virtual town meeting to highlight polls that show Democratic and Republican voters strongly support Democratic proposals to expand Social Security, and to call on House leader Nancy Pelosi to schedule a vote on Larson’s legislative proposal prior to the upcoming mid-term elections.  

Throughout the hour-long internet discussion, they also condemned the recent attacks on Social Security from Senate Republicans. Specifically, Sen Ron Johnson has called for Social Security spending to be considered “discretionary spending” and subject to routine budget negotiations, even though the program is self-funded by workers. Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), chairing the GOP’s committee to re-take the Senate, also has proposed a plan where Social Security would have to be renewed by Congress every five years. And finally, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) is pushing for passage of the TRUST Act, which could fast-track legislation to cut Social Security benefits. 

“Social Security has provided our nation with the most comprehensive retirement, disability, and survivors benefits for 87 years,” said Larson. “Democrats are fighting to expand and protect it, yet my Republican colleagues have plans to cut benefits and even end the program as a whole,” he noted.

Larson noted that Congress had not acted in 50 years to enhance benefits. “The American people have made clear they want to protect the program they pay into with each and every paycheck so they can retire with dignity,” he said. “With the COVID-19 pandemic still impacting our country and Republicans revealing their plans to end benefits, there is a fierce urgency to protect and enhance Social Security now. Alongside commemorating 87 years of this program, Congress must pass Social Security 2100: A Sacred Trust to make much needed benefit improvements and ensure this program can serve our nation for years to come. Congress must vote!” he said. 

Congresswomen Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), chair of the Congressional Caucus Progressive, representing 100 lawmakers made an urgent call for the protection and expansion of Social Security. “It’s not an entitlement program,” she said, stressing that it is an earned benefit.

“The work we have to do to make sure that this earned benefit pays out the dividends that keep up with the requirement and needs of our Social Security benefit is what H. R. 2100 is all about,” she said, pushing Larson’s Social Security legislative proposal.  

Like Larson, Jayapal calls Social Security the most successful antipoverty program in this country.  “It has lifted more than 20 million Americans out of poverty, including one million children and more 16 million older Americans.  It provides a lifeline to over 16 disabled persons.,” she says.

Julian Blair, Chair of the Advisory Board, SPACEs in Action, called for Congress to get behind expanding and protecting Social Security. “Expanding Social Security …will allow us seniors, and many other people who depend on Social Security, to live with a little dignity—a right all of us have earned and should expect to receive from our country,” she said.

 Peter Morley, Patient Advocate & co-founder of Health Care Awareness Month, who is permanently disabled,” urged that Congress overhaul the and expedite the process for patients applying to SSDI and SSI. “They should not have to wait for years. It’s a tragedy and a shame on our country,” he said.

Urgency to Act Now

Four days before SSW’s virtual town meeting, Max Richtman, President and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) gave his thoughts as to the need to expand and strengthen Social Security in an opinion piece, “Let’s Honor Social Security’s 87th Anniversary by Strengthening and Expanding it,” published on the digital site, The Hill.

When President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act of 1935 into law 87 years ago, he didn’t “intend for it to remain frozen in place” but would need to be expanded with the nation’s changing demographics,” says NCPSSM’s Richtman.

“In fact, during the first 40 years of Social Security, Congress expanded the program no less than 15 times – mostly to broaden coverage and increase benefits.  In 1950, Social Security was expanded to cover domestic and agricultural workers.

In 1956, Congress added monthly disability benefits, which is why millions of workers with disabilities collect Social Security today. The 1972 amendments provided annual cost-of-living adjustments  (COLAs) to help beneficiaries keep up with inflation,” states Richtman. 

“Sadly, benefits have not been significantly improved since then. Instead, lawmakers have prioritized keeping the program’s trust fund solvent amidst waves of retiring baby boomers. In 1983, Congress increased the payroll tax and raised the retirement age gradually from 65 to 67, which was, in effect, a benefit cut. It was ‘hard medicine’ that affects retirees four decades later. At the time, Congress had little choice because it waited so long to act that Social Security was just months away from being unable to pay full benefits,” added Richtman in his opinion piece.

Like Larson and Jayapal, Richtman also called for strengthening Social Security and in his opinion, piece, urging passage of the Social Security 2100 Act, that expands Social Security benefits and extends the life of the trust fund. At press time, this legislative proposal has 208 cosponsors in the House. The legislative proposal has not one Republican supporting it and some moderate Democrats still haven’t endorsed it.

Richtman also expressed strong concern about the Republican proposals to cut and privatize Social Security if they take over leadership of the House and Senate Chambers. “When Congress returns from summer recess, Democrats have a limited window to enact the Social Security 2100 Act before the midterm elections and subsequent lame duck session, observes Richtman.

According to Richtman, under Larson’s legislative proposal, all beneficiaries would receive a 2 percent increase in boost in benefits — with special increases for widows and widowers, lower-income workers, and retirees over 85 years of age. Future COLAs would be based on a new inflation formula – the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly –  that more accurately reflects seniors’ spending patterns. 

Richtman says that Larson’s Social Security proposal would increase the flow of tax revenues into Social Security. Currently, he noted that high earners do not contribute to Social Security on wages exceeding $147,000. Under this proposal, wages above $400,000 also would be subject to payroll taxes. 

Overwhelming support for the Social Security’s proposal for passage

With the midterm elections just 57 days away, Congress must move quickly to bring Larson’s Social Security 2200 Act to the House floor for a vote.  Even with President Biden and 208 Democratic House lawmakers calling for a House vote on Social Security 2100 Act, it has been reported that Wendell Primus, House Leader Nancy Pelosi’s senior staffer on domestic policy issues, has advised his boss to pull the Social Security proposal from markup, reportedly over cost concerns, effectively derailing Larson’s efforts to get a House vote on his legislative proposal.

Almost 40 aging groups have joined 208 House lawmakers in advocating for expanding and protecting Social Security benefits received by over 70 million Americans.  Primus must rethink his position opposing House consideration.  If the GOP retains control of the House and Senate chambers, Democrats will not be able for years to improve the financial health and expand Social Security benefits. The GOP will control the House and Senate’s legislative agenda. Congressional Democrats and aging advocacy groups would be put in the defensive position to keep the program that we know so well in existence.

For details about the Social Security 2100 Act, go to https://larson.house.gov/sites/evo-subsites/larson.house.gov/files/Social%20Security%202100%20-%20Fact%20Sheet%20117th.pdf

To watch the livestream event, “Social Security Town Hall Meeting,” go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xycabwQSurI

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Older Americans Month: great time to bring back House Aging Committee

Published in RINewsToday on May 9, 2022

On April 29, President Joe Biden proclaimed the month of May, Older Americans Month for 2022 to honor the nation’s 54.1 million Americans aged 65 and over “who contribute their time and wisdom to make our communities stronger, more informed, and better connected.”

“Older adults have always been a vital source of strength and resilience in America,” stated Biden in the proclamation.  During the pandemic, many seniors came out of retirement to serve their communities in health care and education roles, filling job vacancies in critical shortage areas. Moving forward, we must ensure that older Americans have the appropriate resources to maintain their independence and stay connected to their communities,” he said.

The proclamation also noted that the nation is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Older Americans Act Nutrition Program — the first federal program to support the well-being of older Americans through meal deliveries, nutrition services, educational programs, and counseling. This year is also the 10th anniversary of the nation’s National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease and recommit to building upon this important work being done.

Biden recognizing this month in honor of seniors follows the footsteps of 11 presidents, beginning with President John F. Kennedy in 1963, when only 17 million Americans had reached their 65thbirthday. At that time,  about a third of America’s seniors lived in poverty and there were only a few federal programs to meet their needs. A meeting in April 1963 between Kennedy and the National Council of Senior Citizens led to designating May as “Senior Citizens Month,” later renamed “Older Americans Month.”

Over the years, OAM is a time the nation acknowledges the contributions of past and current older persons to our country, in particular those who defended our country. Communities across the nation pay tribute at ceremonies, events, and fairs, or in other ways to older persons in their communities.  

OAM – a great time to bring back the House Aging Committee

As the nation celebrates OAM, an eblast to over 90,000 seniors by the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) urged these older voters to call their congressmen to request them to cosponsor Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline’s H. Res. 583, to reestablish the House Select Committee on Aging (HSCoA). “It couldn’t be a better time to highlight the urgent need to reinstate this investigative committee which would help restore Congressional focus on key policy issues [Social Security, Medicare, housing, prescription drugs, and long-term care] impacting the nation’s seniors says the Benefits Watch newsletter.   

“Today, with seniors representing a growing portion of the U.S. population and several federal programs that seniors rely on at an inflection point, there is an increasing need for a House committee that advocates for older Americans,” says NCPSM’s email, noting that’s why the Washington, DC-based advocacy group has signed onto the Leadership Council on Aging Organization’s (LCAO) letter calling on the House to pass H. Res. 583. 

“While there are other committees with jurisdiction over seniors’ programs, there is no single committee dedicated to keeping an eye on the big picture for seniors.  Fortunately, the Senate Special Committee on Aging has continued to operate in the absence of a House counterpart,” notes NCPSSM’s email, noting that “seniors would benefit from a reinstated and robust HSCoA, whose sole mission would be to look out for older American’s needs.

National Aging Groups, former Pepper staffer weighs in

“Older Americans month would be the perfect time to bring back the Aging Committee,” says Bob Weiner, former Chief of Staff under chairman Claude Pepper of the House Select Committee on Aging. “It’s sorely missing now. With Pepper’s legacy as the guide, pandemic deaths, nursing homes, home health care, Social Security, and Medicare would be improved by the sunlight of oversight. Seniors are now vulnerable and threatened by what could happen and having the Aging Committee back would reinstate the wall of protection that Pepper gave them,” he says. 

“The LCAO supports the establishment of HSCoA to provide an important forum for discussion, debate and exploration of issues impacting an aging society,” says Katie Smith Sloan, chair of the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations (LCAO), a coalition of 69 Washington, DC-based aging organizations. “Addressing the needs of older adults and families, which are increasingly prevalent with our population shifts, now, as we celebrate Older Americans Month, is appropriate – and urgent,” says Sloan. LCAO sent a letter to members of Congress on March 4, 2022, urging them to cosponsor H. Res. 583. 

“Passing H Res 583 in May to coincide with it being Older Americans month would make eminent policy and political sense.  It is an investment in having a stronger and dedicated advocacy voice for older adults in the House which has been missing for almost 20 years,” says Robert B. Blancato, National Coordinator of the Elder Justice Coalition, who was the longest serving staff person on the original House Aging Committee, from 1977 to 1993.

“As our country’s older adult population continues to grow each day, so does the urgency with which we need to pursue effective solutions to myriad aging issues,” says Erika Kelly, Chief Membership and Advocacy Officer of Meals on Wheels America. “To see the House pass this resolution to reestablish the HSCoA during Older Americans Month would be a tremendous step forward,” she says.

“Older Americans Act programs, like Meals on Wheels, will undoubtedly face the lingering impact of the pandemic and other challenges for years to come. Having this HSCoA come [back] to life again, especially during this celebratory month, would provide critical leadership and attention when it’s needed most and make a difference in the lives of tens of millions of older adults,” says Kelly.

Finally, Cicilline, H. Res. 583’s sponsor and the NCPSSM tells us why it is important for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her Democratic leadership colleagues to support and bring H. Res. 583 to the House Rules Committee for a vote during Older Americans Month.

“With Older Americans Month upon us, this is an important moment to underscore how the pandemic has disproportionately impacted seniors. Now, with growing concerns about inflation, seniors on fixed incomes will bear the burden of the rising cost of prescription drugs, food, housing, and other essentials. A House Permanent Select Committee on Aging would help Congress focus on, study, and address the issues that affect seniors to make sure they can live the rest of their lives with dignity and security,” says Cicilline.

“When there was a HSCoA before it was abolished in 1995, the investigative House committee held hearings on aspects of the Older Americans Act leading up to the 1992 reauthorization of the law,” noted NCPSSM’s Dan Adcock, Director of Government Relations and Policy. “The findings of these hearings were helpful to the House Committee on Education and Labor which had legislative jurisdiction over the Older Americans Act.  The Subcommittee on Human Resources [now called the Civil Rights and Human Services Subcommittee] under the full Education and Labor Committee held several of its own hearings on the OAA, too – including field hearings held across the country — leading to the enactment of the 1992 reauthorization., he said. 

According to Adcock, during that period of time, there was significant communication between the House Aging Committee staff and the Ed and Labor Committee and Human Resources Subcommittee staff.  But the legislative language was written and marked up by the latter. “A reestablished HSCoA could play a similar role in the future, but the panel’s ability to have an impact on legislation drafted by the authorizing committees would depend on the cooperation between the respective committee chairs and staff and the degree of relevancy of the hearings held by a reconstituted House Aging Committee,” he says. 

Over 400 senior groups support H. Res. 583

While LCAO is a pretty diverse group of national aging organizations – each with their own policy priorities, the coalition of 69 members, representing over 100 million over 50, and 50 million over 65 came together to endorse and affirm their support of Cicilline’s resolution.  

Ms. Nancy Altman, President of Social Security Works and Chair of the Strengthen Social Security Coalition, strongly supports the passage of H. Res. 583 and that her coalition of 350 national and state organizations representing 50 million Americans endorses Rep. Cicilline’s resolution.  

As we celebrate OAM, it is key to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) to join Cicilline along with Congresswomen Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Doris Matsui (D-CA), cochairs of the Task Force on Aging and Family and 43 cosponsors of H. Res 583, giving the green light to the House Rules committee to vote, and if approved send it quickly to the floor.

H. Res. 583 does not require Senate consideration and only requires a House Rules and floor vote for passage.  Passing the reestablishment of an investigative committee in the House would send a powerful message to older Americans that Congress following in Pepper’s footsteps will again get serious in addressing aging issues. 

As mentioned in previous commentaries, bringing back the HSCoA is a winning federal policy to positive impact America’s seniors and this group.  It’s the  right thing to do especially at a time when seniors have been a disproportionately impacted by the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.    

Over 450 national and state aging organizations representing conservatively over 150 million seniors, support the enactment of H. Res. 583. That’s a great reason for the lower chamber to strongly support.

To see the LCAO’s letter sent to Congress on March 4, 2022, endorsing H. Res. 583, go to https://www.lcao.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/House-Aging-Committee-LCAO-Letter-3-4-22.pdf.

For a historical background of the HSCoA and details about H. Res. 583, go to https://rinewstoday.com/congressman-cicilline-poised-for-legacy-as-next-fiery-advocatsie-on-aging/.

For details about Congressman Claude Pepper (D-FL) Congressman, during his six-year serving as chair of the HSCoA, go to https://rinewstoday.com/congressman-cicilline-poised-for-legacy-as-next-fiery-advocate-on-aging/.