Weiss: Overhauling Social Security & Medicare Gets ‘Thumbs Down’ in Recent Poll Findings

Monday, February 20, 2017
Herb Weiss, GoLocalProv Guest MINDSETTERâ„¢

As the Trump Administration completes its first month in office, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM), lawmakers and union groups gathered to release the findings of a new poll that showed a majority of Americans do not buy into the GOP’s strategy to “fundamentally alter Social Security, the nation’s retirement and disability program and Medicare, the federal health care program for older Americans, and they oppose benefits cuts.  Eight out of ten poll recipients favor living the tax cap to fixing Social Security and financially strengthening the program, say the researchers.

The poll findings were released last Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol by NCPSSM’s Max Richtman, with Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD); Rep. John Larson (D-CT); Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-CA); Celinda Lake, President Lake Research Partners; Witold Skwierczynski, President, National Council of SSA Field Operations Locals, Council 220, American Federation of Government Employees; Steve Hill, Director of Retirement Security Campaigns, SEIU; and Nancy Olumekor, Director, American Postal Workers Union Retiree Department.  

Don’t Tamper with Our Social Security

“These results prove that Americans want Congress to honor the commitment to all working people who paid into Social Security and Medicare, and keep their hands off these programs,” said Max Richtman, President and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, at the press conference. “This should be a warning to members of Congress that they tamper with our cherished social insurance programs at their peril,” he says.

NCPSSM’s poll findings, of 800 likely voters nationwide, found that 79 percent of the survey respondent’s favor expanding Social Security benefits and 74 percent support paying for it by gradually requiring employees and employers to pay Social Security taxes on wages above    $ 127,000, including majorities across party lines.

 The recently released poll found that 77 percent oppose raising the Social Security retirement age to 69, and a whopping 93 percent favor allowing Medicare to negotiate to bring down the cost of prescription drugs, and they also overwhelmingly opposed raising Medicare’s eligibility age.  Seventy five percent favor Security benefits credit for up to five years of time spent outside the paid workforce caring for young children, aging seniors, or family members with disabilities.

Meanwhile, sixty nine percent of the respondents oppose reducing benefits for workers whose average annual lifetime earnings today are 60 thousand dollars or more, again including majorities across party lines. Seventy-three percent of Democrats oppose this, as do 70 percent of Republicans and 63 percent of Independents.

 According to the NCPSSM poll, respondents expressed strong concerns about Social Security not being there when they retire (64 percent) and not being able to pay for costly prescription drug (65 percent).  Roughly the same number (63 percent) say they are worried about having enough money in retirement to be financially secure. Just 53 percent say they are worried about not being able to retire when they want for financial reasons. These concerns reflect voters to strong support for protecting each program, and for policies that would increase benefits and reduce the price of prescription drugs, say the researchers.

Researchers also took a look at how respondents prefer to communicate with the Social Security Administration (SSA).  They found that 65 percent express a preference to communicate with a “live person” person at the agency (26 percent through a toll free number) if they want to apply for benefits, replace a lost Social Security card, or had questions about their earnings records.  About 31 percent prefer getting their information from the SSA’s website, they said.

Finally, NCPSSM’s national poll indicated that respondents prefer to receive their Social Security statement by mail. Overall 64 percent prefer to receive this by mail and 32 percent prefer an electronic statement by email.    

Circling the Wagons to Protect Social Security and Medicare

 “Social Security and Medicare represent a promise America has made to all those participating in this system,” said Democratic Senator Van Hollen. “Americans overwhelmingly want to strengthen these essential lifelines. I strongly support efforts to ensure that these programs can increase benefits and continue to deliver financial security for generations to come.”

Congressman Larson says that the NCPSSM poll underscores popular support for the kinds of measures he proposes in his Social Security 2100 Act, which keeps the program solvent into the next century while increasing benefits.  “Social Security is not an entitlement; its insurance we paid for,” says the Democratic Congressman, calling on President Trump at the press conference to protect and expand Social Security. 

Cardenas made an emotional plea at the press conference to preserve Social Security and Medicare by citing a family story. “My grandson’s great-grandmother was saved by Medicare.  It’s a matter of dignity and life,” he said.  The Democratic Congressman strongly opposes GOP proposals to privatize the nation’s social insurance programs.  “Do we value dignity? Do we value life?  Make our President and our Congress commit that they will not take it away from you,” he told the press conference attendees.   

Witold Skwierczynski, of the American Federation of Government Employees, came to the press conference with a dire warning:  Expect customer SSA service to retirees to get worst in the coming years.  Staffing in field offices has been cut by 2, 900 (10 percent) since 2010 while work increased 12 percent, he noted, expecting the agency’s workload to go up 32 percent through 2025 due to the retiring baby boomer generation.  

 Skwierczynski expects Trump’s recent Continuing Resolution to freeze the hiring of federal employees to further increase waiting times at SSA field offices and for 800 number callers.

“President Trump is a hotel man.  If he ran his hotels like SSA he would have another bankruptcy.  None of his customers would tolerate a 3 to 4 hour wait for room service.  However, SSA customers wait hours, days, weeks, months and years for SSA to process their business.  That's not acceptable,” says Skwierczynski.

Nancy Olumekor, Retiree Department American Postal Workers Union, came calling for Congressional support to improve Social Security and Medicare.  “Our members did not vote to destroy Social Security and Medicare to replace them with vouchers. Postal workers are opposed to increasing the eligibility age for Medicare and Social Security,” she said.

As President Trump continues to make major changes in federal tax, environmental, labor, education and health policy, NCPSSM and other national aging groups are gearing up for the battle of the century – saving the existing Social Security and Medicare programs for current beneficiaries and future generations.  If President Trump and GOP lawmakers view NCPSSM’s poll results as “fake news” they do so at their own risk.  Actions to overhaul these two popular domestic programs will send the nation’s voters to the polls in four years.  Tampering with Social Security and Medicare may well be hazardous to your political career.               

NCPSSM’s poll, conducted by Lake Research Partners from January 4 to January 7, 2017, was sponsored by the American Federation of Government Employees, American Postal Workers Union, Service Employees International Union and the United Steelworkers

Herb Weiss, LRI’12 is a Pawtucket writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. To purchase Taking Charge: Collected Stories on Aging Boldly, a collection of 79 of his weekly commentaries, go to herbweiss.com. 

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