Conservative critics of all things governmental love to talk about “saving Social Security.”
But they use the term “saving” in the Orwellian sense.
Conservative plans to “save,” “preserve” or “maintain” Social Security invariably involve gutting the program that provides an essential safety net for retired Americans and others in need.
The thing is that Americans, even those have not reached retirement age, like Social Security. And they recognize that, with minor tinkering in contribution rates for the wealthy and perhaps with the retirement age, it can be maintained for generations to come.
So overt schemes to render the program dysfunctional, like those advanced by former President George Bush and Congressman Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, fail to attract public support.
The real threat to Social Security comes from backdoor plans that underfund and undermine it in the guise of “cost-saving” schemes that even some Democrats back.
An example of this is this year’s decision by federal authorities, for the first time since 1975, to deny millions of seniors a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to their Social Security checks.
In fact, the trustees who oversee Social Security are projecting there won’t be a cost of living adjustment for the next two years.
Denying cost-of-living adjustments has the effect of reducing the buying power of seniors who rely on Social Security to get by. While prices for necessities are rising — especially for vulnerable seniors, according to studies by the American Association for Retired People — the amount of money the seniors have to pay for those necessities does not increase.
That’s an emergency for the 15 percent of beneficiaries who rely on Social Security as their sole source of income.
But it is no small concern for the 70 percent of recipients for whom Social Security provides more than half of their fixed- or declining- incomes. These individuals have taken particularly hard hits as the value of stocks and bonds have tanked in the past year.
“Many have seen their savings disappear, their pension funds severely decline and the value of their homes dramatically diminish -– all while poverty among seniors has gone up, as has the number of seniors declaring bankruptcy,” explains Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who adds that, “It is my view that seniors are going to need help this year, and it would not be acceptable for Congress to simply turn its back.”
Sanders and Congressman Pete DeFazio, D-Oregon, are responding to the cost-of-living cut by proposing the Emergency Senior Citizens Relief Act, which would provide Social Security recipients an extra one-time payment next year of $250.
DeFazio says it is urgent that Congress act. “Failure to provide a cost-of-living increase for seniors could not come at a worse time,” says the Oregonian. “It would simply be unacceptable for seniors on fixed incomes to not receive the help they deserve to keep up with increased prices seniors pay for prescription drugs and medical care.”