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A crisis for seniors who rely on Social Security

A crisis for seniors who rely on Social Security
© Greg Nash

It seems every time we talk about the long-term future of Social Security, many in Washington start clamoring to raise the retirement age or propose other ways to trim Social Security’s modest benefits. Those calling for cuts are missing the dire state of retirement security for the typical American. Traditional pensions have become a thing of the past, and stagnant wages are making it harder and harder to put aside savings. For the two-thirds of retirees who rely on Social Security for a majority of their income, there is not a Social Security crisis, there is a retirement crisis. That is why we must preserve and enhance the one program Americans have always been able to count on.    

Just the other week I sat down with seniors in Glastonbury, Conn., to discuss our nation’s retirement crisis. These men and women hail from all walks of life: veterans, small-business owners, homemakers and machinists. They’ve built and rebuilt this country through wars and recessions. I spoke with one man who spent his life as a lineman, his fingers now crooked and gnarled from a lifetime helping to usher America into the Digital Age. Can we really in good conscience ask the millions of men and women, who have already given so much, to keep pushing well past their breaking point? How does it make sense to push the retirement age ever higher or cut benefits at a time when people need them most? 

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We can shore up Social Security for future generations without needlessly slashing benefits for people like those seniors in Glastonbury or their children and grandchildren. That is why I have been joined by more than 60 of my colleagues in putting forth H.R. 1391, the Social Security 2100 Act.  

Rather than cut benefits or hike the retirement age, this proposal would increase benefits across the board. It would provide a better cost-of-living adjustment that would reflect the true cost seniors incur, such as higher medical expenses. It would also ensure that those who have paid into the system won’t retire into poverty by increasing minimum payments. Because more seniors are working into their retirement years, this proposal provides a tax cut to 11 million beneficiaries by raising the level of income individuals and couples can earn before their Social Security benefits are taxed. All of these provisions will strengthen and enhance Social Security for current beneficiaries and generations to come. 

The Social Security 2100 Act keeps the system solvent for the next 75 years and beyond, according to the independent analysis of the Social Security Administration’s chief actuary, and does so without cutting benefits or contributing a dime to the deficit. 

How do we do this? First, we ask individuals making more than $400,000 a year to contribute into Social Security in the same way as the rest of us. Currently, those with earnings above $118,500 no longer have to pay into the system. To put it another way, LeBron James has made his yearly contribution to Social Security by about lunchtime on New Year’s Day. 

Second, we slowly introduce an increase to the contributions both workers and employers make. Over the span of 25 years, it would mean an additional 0.05 percent each year. A worker making $50,000 a year would pay an additional 50 cents per week each year to Social Security. 

With those two provisions alone — for less than a cup of coffee each month and by asking the top 0.4 percent of earners to pay into the system — we can keep Social Security solvent though the end of the century.   

Let’s get something straight: Social Security is not an entitlement program. It’s the insurance you’ve paid for paycheck after paycheck. The benefits Social Security provides for retirees, the disabled, survivors, spouses and dependents would simply be unavailable on the private market. If some calamity or misfortune strikes — a grievous injury, a tragic death — you deserve the peace of mind that you are part of a larger family: the United States of America. 

Social Security is the full faith and credit of the United States government, and we the people guarantee that credit. We the people built this program together, and together, we the people will ensure its future for generations to come. 

Larson has represented Connecticut’s 1st Congressional District since 1999. He sits on the Ethics, and the Ways and Means committees.