WASHINGTON—Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), along with Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced legislation Wednesday to expand Social Security benefits and strengthen the retirement program for generations to come.
“As a trained gerontologist, I have devoted my career to protecting programs and benefits vital to seniors. It has always been and continues to be my highest priority to protect Social Security. In the face of future funding challenges, we need common sense solutions in order to fully protect this vital program. It is incomprehensible that while Social Security is in financial crisis, we are allowing millionaires to stop paying in to the program this week. I am proud to introduce legislation to address this disparity, increase benefits for seniors, and protect the program from partisan cuts,” DeFazio said.
“Social Security has never been more important than it is today. Yet as costs of living rise and private sector retirement benefits shrink, more and more seniors find themselves struggling to make ends meet with their Social Security benefits,” said Merkley. “We need to strengthen benefits and strengthen the trust fund, and this bill does both.”
“It is time to expand Social Security, not cut it,” Sanders said. “At a time when more than half of older Americans over the age of 55 have no retirement savings, our job is to expand Social Security to make sure that everyone in this country can retire with the dignity they have earned and everyone with a disability can live with the security they need. ”
Social Security is one of the most popular and successful government programs. Before Social Security was created in 1935, about half of America’s seniors were living in poverty. Today the senior poverty rate is just 8.8 percent. Yet, despite this success, one out of every five seniors are trying to survive on an income of less than $13,500 a year and about half of Americans 55 and older have zero retirement savings.
The legislation would increase benefits by about $1,342 a year for seniors now making less than $16,000 annually and increase cost-of-living adjustments by more accurately measuring the spending patterns of seniors.
The bill would also ensure that Social Security could pay every benefit owed to every eligible American for the next 52 years, according to the retirement system’s chief actuary. It would extend the program’s solvency by making the wealthiest 1.8 percent of Americans—those with incomes of more than $250,000 a year—pay the same rate into the retirement system as everyone else already pays. Current law caps the amount of income subject to payroll taxes at $132,900.
DeFazio and Sanders’ legislation would restore student benefits, eliminated in 1983, that help educate children of deceased or disabled parents.
Strengthening and expanding Social Security enjoys widespread support: 72 percent of Americans, including 51 percent of Republicans, “support increasing—not cutting—Social Security benefits by asking millionaires and billionaires to pay more into the system,” according to an October 2016 survey by Public Policy Polling.