Women 50+ may well control who wins in midterm election, polls say 

Published on in RINewsToday on October 17, 2022

Almost three weeks away, and Democrats are scrambling to gear up their get-out-the-vote efforts before the upcoming midterm elections. Can the Democratic party that fights to financially strengthen and expand Social Security, and avoid cuts to funding for Medicare, and put the brakes on skyrocketing prescription costs, count on older woman voters to support their candidates to keep control of Congress?

Maybe not a sure bet, says a newly released AARP poll, “She’s the Difference – Survey of Likely Voters Aged 50 plus,” that finds that while woman aged 50 and older are energized to vote, they are still weighing their options on which party to support.  

AARP’s poll findings should cause a  concern to Democratic candidates. According to voter file and census data, older woman voters are one of the largest, most reliable group of voters. They make up a little more and then one-quarter (27 percent) of registered voters and cast nearly a third (30 percent) of all ballots in both the 2020 and 2018 elections. In 2020, 83 percent of registered women voters in this age group turned and in 2018, the last midterm election, they were 15 percent more likely to vote than the population at large. 

 “As the largest bloc of swing voters heading into the midterms, women voters 50+ can make the difference in 2022 and decide the balance of power in Congress and state houses across the country,” said Nancy LeaMond, AARP Executive Vice President and Chief Advocacy and Engagement Officer, in a statement releasing the 18-page poll results Oct. 4, 2022.

AARP commissioned the bipartisan polling team of Lake Research Partners, GBAO Strategies, Echelon Insights and Bellwether Research & Consulting to conduct a national survey of voters aged 50 and over. 

“The biggest bloc of swing voters for both parties is women over 50 who are still undecided, frustrated that candidates are not in touch with their lives, and looking to hear that elected officials will protect Social Security from cuts,” said Celinda Lake, founder and president, Lake Research Partners. 

“Increasingly, it isn’t just that voters of different parties that want different solutions to problems – they don’t even agree on what the biggest problem is. But a few issues, like concerns about political division and the future of Social Security and Medicare, do cross party lines with women over 50,” added Kristin Soltis Anderson, founding partner, Echelon Insights.

“Neither party can say they have “won” the votes of women over 50 yet. Older women are evenly divided on the generic ballot and two-in-five say they will make their final decision in the remaining weeks. They will be watching messaging on Social Security, and many will be focused on threats to democracy and gun violence, while others will more closely track inflation and rising prices,” says Christine Matthews, president, Bellwether Research.

A Warning to Congressional Candidates 

Researchers found that an overwhelming majority of older women voters say they will vote on Nov. 8th, (94 percent), however 51 percent of this swing voter group has still not made up their mind as to which candidates to support. Among these voters in a generic congressional ballot, Republican and Democrat candidates are tied, notes the poll’s findings.

The poll findings indicate that Latinas and Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women voters 50 and over are more undecided on who they will vote cast their vote for, with 77 percent of Latinas and 68 percent of AAPI women saying they have not made up their minds yet.

Reflecting other polls on senior support of Social Security, AARP’s poll found that women voters 50 and over are unified in their support for protecting Social Security from budgetary cuts, with three-quarters saying that this would personally help them a lot. However, half of the respondents think that the economy is not working for them. 

Additionally, two-thirds (66 percent) of women aged 50 and over say they are cutting down on non-essential purchases, four in 10 (41 percent) have cut back on essentials and 40 percent are saving less as ways to financially survive the increased costs of living.

The poll findings report that specific actions that would help older women the most financially include lowering the cost of food (66 percent), lowering the cost of gas (58percent), lowering the cost of health care (57 percent), and expanding Medicare to cover dental and vision (57percent). 

Over 80 percent of women voters rate their motivation to vote on Nov. 8th at a 10 on a 0 to10 scale, with economic and social issues being key issues for them. The tops issues for Republican women aged 50 and over include: inflation and rising prices (60 percent); crime (51 percent); immigration (49 percent); and election security (49 percent). On the other hand, Democratic women aged 50 and over say voting rights (63 percent) and threats to democracy (62 percent) are their top concerns, followed by gun violence (54 percent) and abortion (54 percent).

Independent women aged 50 and over rank division in the country (46 percent), voting rights (43 percent), threats to democracy (42percent), and inflation and rising prices (41 percent) as their biggest concerns.

AARP’s survey also found that older women voters are unimpressed with the job elected officials have done on “understanding the everyday challenges of people like me,” with three-quarters (75 percent) saying they have done just a fair (32 percent) or poor (43 percent) job.

“Social Security may be a consensus issue with women 50+, yet among Democrats, threats to democracy and voting rights are very much top tier. And across all groups of women 50+, “jobs” are bottom tier. That’s not surprising given not many women have said they have gone back to work or taken on extra shifts in order to make ends meet,” said Margie Omero, principal at GBAO.

A Final Note…

As early voting begins, “Roll Call” notes that there are 81 House races listed as competitive, meaning they are rated as Toss-up, Tilt, Lean, or Likely. Ten Senate seats are considered Leaning or Toss-Up, says the Cook Political Report. With these numbers Democrat and Republican candidates should heed the results of AARP’s poll reporting the older woman voters remain uncommitted to supporting candidates before the upcoming mid-term elections. With weeks to go, how do you bring them back into the fold?

Whoever takes control of Congress on Nov. 8th, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has scheduled 17 days between the election until Dec. 15, 2022, to finish business before the closing of the 117th Congressional session. During this time frame, if the House Democrats lose control Pelosi has an opportunity to set a Democratic policy agenda before the next Congress.  She might consider allowing markup and a floor vote on Congressman Larson’s H.R. 5723, Social Security 2100: A Sacred Trust Act.  This landmark legislation would strengthen and expand Social Security.  Even with President Joe Biden and 202 Democratic House lawmakers calling for a House vote, it was pulled from markup, reportedly over cost concerns. Passage of this bill would set the stage for the Democrats becoming the protectors of Social Security if the GOP considers making cuts to the program, raising the eligibility age or privatizing the program. 

At press time, the Democratic House Speaker has also not allowed a vote in the House Rules Committee on Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline’s H.R. 583, Reestablishing the House Select Committee on Aging (HSCoA) in the House Rules Committee. Passage in this Committee would almost ensure passage on the House floor with Pelosi’s support.  Cicilline’s resolution would bring back this investigative committee that put the spotlight on House aging policies over 30 years ago, but was eliminated in 1994. It’s a winning policy issue for America’s seniors and this group has traditionally been the highest turnout age group in previous elections.  

If the GOP takes control of the House and Senate, it sets the legislative agenda for these two legislative chambers during 118th Congress. For the next two years Democrats will not be able to move legislation to the House and Senate floors that improve the financial health and expansion of Social Security benefits or to bring back the HSCoA.  Congressional Democrats, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, Social Security Works, and other aging advocacy groups, would be put in the defensive position to defend Social Security, Medicare, and other federal programs that enhance the quality of life of America’s seniors. 

According to AARP, the national survey (“She’s the Difference…”) was fielded by phone and online between Sept. 6 and Sept. 13, 2022, using landline, cell and text to web data collection. The final survey included interviews with 800 women voters aged 50 and over who are likely to vote in 2022, with oversamples of 100 Black, 100 Hispanic/Latina English speaking, 100 Hispanic/Latina Spanish speaking, and 100 Asian American and Pacific Islander women voters aged 50 and over. Weighting resulted in an effective sample size of 800 likely women voters aged 50 and over with a margin of error of +/- 3.5percent. 

To view the full poll findings, go to https://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/research/surveys_statistics/politics/2022/shes-the-difference-likely-voters-50-plus-survey-october-2022-polling-memo.doi.10.26419-2Fres.00570.003.pdf.

For further information, contact Rachelle L. Cummins, Research Director at AARP, go to  Research at rcummins@aarp.comresearch@aarp.org

Herb Weiss, LRI’12, a Pawtucket writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. To purchase his books, Taking Charge: Collected Stories on Aging Boldly, and a sequel, go to herbweiss.com

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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Trustee Reports predict improved outlook for Social Security and Medicare

Published in RINewsToday on June 6, 2022

On June 2, 2022, following a meeting of the Social Security and Medicare Boards of Trustees, the Social Security Administration (SSA) – joined by the Departments of Health and Human Services and Labor, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and the U.S. Department of Treasury — released a 275-page annual report giving us a snapshot of the financial health of the Social Security Trust Funds.

The Trustee reports findings

According to this year’s Trustee Reports, “Social Security and Medicare both face long-term financing shortfalls under currently scheduled benefits and financing. Costs of both programs will grow faster than gross domestic product (GDP) through the mid-2030s primarily due to the rapid aging of the U.S. population. Medicare costs will continue to grow faster than GDP through the late 2070s due to projected increases in the volume and intensity of services provided.”

The Social Security Trustees report that the combined asset reserves of the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance and Disability Insurance (OASI and DI) Trust Funds, paying benefits to 65 million retirees, disabled people as well as survivors of deceased workers, are projected to become depleted in 2035, one year later than projected last year, with 80 percent of benefits payable at that time. The DI Trust Fund asset reserves are not projected to become depleted during the 75-year projection period.

“It is important to strengthen Social Security for future generations. The Trustees recommend that lawmakers address the projected trust fund shortfalls in a timely way to phase in necessary changes gradually,” says Kilolo Kijakazi, Acting Commissioner of Social Security in a statement announcing the released report. “Social Security will continue to be a vital part of the lives of 66 million beneficiaries and 182 million workers and their families during 2022,” she adds.   

The Medicare Board of Trustees note in its 263 page report that the projected depletion date for Medicare’s trust fund for inpatient hospital care (Part A), covering around 64 million retirees and disabled persons, moved from last year’s forecast of 2026 to 2028. At this time Medicare will only be able to pay 90% of the scheduled benefits when the fund is depleted.

“We are committed to running a sustainable Medicare program that provides high quality, person-centered care to older Americans and people with disabilities,” said CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure. In a statement “Medicare trust fund solvency is an incredibly important, longstanding issue and we are committed to working with Congress to continue building a vibrant, equitable, and sustainable Medicare program,” she says.

Thoughts from senior advocacy groups

In a statement, AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins said that this year’s Social Security and Medicare Trustee report sends this clear message to Congress: “The Social Security and Medicare Trustees’ reports should send this “clear message” to Congress: “Despite the short-term improvement, you must act to protect the benefits people have earned and paid into both now and for the long-term. The stakes are too high for the millions of Americans who rely on Medicare and Social Security for their health and financial well-being.”

“These reports also underscore the urgent need for Congress to pass legislation allowing Medicare to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices, which would result in billions of dollars of savings for seniors, the Medicare program, and taxpayers,” says Jenkins.

Jenkins also calls on Congress to increase funding to fix serious long-time Social Security customer service problems, which currently impede or keep seniors and people with disabilities from getting their benefits in a timely manner.

Following the release of the Trustees Report, Executive Director Alex Lawson, of the Washington, DC-based Social Security Works, (SSW) a social welfare organization that lobbies for Social Security Reforms, also issued a statement: “Today’s report shows that our Social Security system remains strong. Protecting and expanding benefits is a question of values, not affordability. That this year’s projections are even stronger than last year’s proves once again that Social Security is built to withstand times of crisis, including pandemics.”

We don’t have a Social Security crisis, but we do have a retirement income crisis. With prices rising, seniors and people with disabilities are struggling to afford food and medicine. The solution is to expand Social Security,” says Lawson. 

According to SSW, the 2020 Social Security Trustee’s Report reported that Social Security has an accumulated surplus of about $2.85 trillion.  It projects that, even if Congress took no action whatsoever, Social Security not only can pay all benefits and associated administrative costs until 2035, it is 90 percent funded for the next quarter century, 84 percent for the next half century, and 81 percent for the next three quarters of a century.  

“At the end of the century, in 2095, Social Security is projected to cost just 5.86 percent of the gross domestic product (“GDP”), less than most other wealthy countries spend on their counterpart programs,” says SSW.

Max Richtman, President and CEO of the Washington, DC-based National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM), throws in his two cents about this year’s Trustee Report. “The takeaway from the latest Social Security Trustees report is this:  Congress must strengthen the program’s finances without delay. The Trustees project that the combined Social Security retirement and disability trust fund will become depleted by 2035, one year later than projected in their previous report. At that point, every Social Security beneficiary will suffer a 20% cut to their benefits.”

“Seniors struggling to meet rising living expenses need Social Security to be boosted and strengthened. The pandemic, runaway inflation and devastating stock market losses serve to remind us how vital a robust Social Security program is to workers, retirees, the disabled and their families. The clock is running down. The time for fair, just, and equitable action that safeguards Social Security’s financial stability is now,” adds Richtman.   

While acknowledging that the trust fund insolvency date may fluctuate from year to year, the urgent need to boost the program’s financing and benefits remains consistent, says Richtman. 

NCPSSM’s Richtman says, over the years, the GOP has opposed the expansion and strengthening of Social Security and has called for raising the retirement age, privatization, and more recently, ‘sunsetting’ Social Security and Medicare every five years.  He calls for passage of Rep. John Larson’s Social Security 2100: A Sacred Trust legislation that would extend trust fund solvency by requiring high wage earners to contribute their fair share through an adjustment in the payroll wage cap. 

A Washington Insider says that House Speaker’s Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) policy staff are concerned about the cost of Larson’s Social Security fix legislation and are seeking a CBO cost estimate. At press time this measure has more than 200 Democratic cosponsors in the House. The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC), Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), the Task Force on Aging and Families, and the Congressional Progressive Caucus have all called on Pelosi to bring the bill to the House floor for a vote.

“Thanks to the American Rescue Plan, our economic recovery has strengthened both the Social Security and Medicare Hospital Insurance Trust Funds and improved financial projections for these vital programs. But to ensure that every American worker, senior, child, and person with disabilities receives the necessary and earned benefits provided by both Social Security and Medicare, we need to act. That’s why I am an original cosponsor of legislation like Social Security 2100: A Sacred Trust, to not only enhance benefits for seniors and some of our most vulnerable neighbors, but to also guarantee access to these programs for generations to come,” said Congressman David Cicilline, (D-RI).  

Congress can step in to financially strengthen the Social Security and Medicare programs. A message from the Social Security and Medicare Boards of Trustees suggest Congress pass legislation to reduce or eliminate the long-term financing shortfalls in both the Social Security and Medicare. “Taking action sooner rather than later will allow consideration of a broader range of solutions and provide more time to phase in changes so that the public has adequate time to prepare,” say the Trustees.

Congress should look for “medium-term solvency” fixes to ensure that Social Security program can pay full benefits for several decades rather than for the full 75-year projection period, suggests Paul N. Van De Water, Senior Fellow at the Washington, DC-based Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonprofit nonpartisan research organization and policy institute that conducts research on government policies and programs. “But shoring up the program’s financing for a substantial period of time is important for assuring both current and future beneficiaries that Social Security will be there for them in the years to come,” he says.

At a crossroad

NCPSSM’s Richtman believes Social Security’s future is now at a crossroads. “We can either cut benefits or expand benefits and pay for it by requiring the wealthiest to pay their fair share,” he says, calling on Congress to hold an up or down votes on Larson’s Social Security legislation.

Polling shows that voters support fixing Social Security and Medicare. Seniors may well go to the polls, sending a message with their vote that strengthening and expanding Social Security is important to them.   

For a copy of the 2022 Social Security Trustee Report, go to https://www.ssa.gov/OACT/TR/2022/tr2022.pdf. For a copy of the 2022 Medicare Trustee Report, go to https://www.cms.gov/files/document/2022-medicare-trustees-report.pdf