As retirees say advantages ought to change

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It’s no secret that Social Security is underfunded, and many Americans struggle to get through their monthly benefit checks.

Now the leaders of Congress have raised a key issue in reforming the program.

“Should we vote now or should we kick the can on the street?” said Rep. John Larson, D-Conn., during a meeting of the House Social Security Subcommittee this week.

Larson, who serves as the chair of the subcommittee, asked the question to Julian Blair, a Washington, DC resident, retiree and veteran, who testified during the hearing.

“Congressman, I say we should have voted yesterday,” Blair said.

The exchange sheds light on the problem lawmakers now face with President Joe Biden in office and the Democrats also controlling the House and Senate: how fast can they tackle social security reform?

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Biden ran on a campaign platform promoting big changes to social security. His proposals include raising the minimum social security benefit to 125% of the federal poverty line. He also wants to abolish rules that cut benefits for those who also have certain types of retirement income known as the Windfall Elimination Commission and Government Pension Offset.

Larson has also made his own proposal, called the Social Security 2100 Act, which aims to expand benefits while extending the program’s solvency into the next century.

Both Biden’s and Larson’s plans would require some wage tax hikes, especially for high-income earners, with the aim of offering greater benefits to low-income earners.

“To the shame of this nation, millions have worked all their lives, deposited into a system and received a check from Social Security under the poverty line,” Larson said at the hearing.

Currently, 4 out of 10 Social Security recipients depend on these benefits for most of their income, Larson said. The average retired worker receives $ 18,500. Still others receive payments below the poverty line of $ 12,880, particularly women and minorities.

For Americans on Social Security who are struggling to make ends meet, changes to increase the minimum benefit and remove rules that reduce monthly checks for those who also have retirement income may not come soon enough.

This includes Blair, who started social security contributions at the age of 15 while working at a tomato factory in Virginia that summer. He served in the Air Force and Army and fought in Thailand during the Vietnam War. After his military service, he held various positions at Corning Glass Works.

Today Blair calls social security “a critical part of my income”. But it is still not enough.

“Although I’ve worked and contributed my entire life, my social security benefits are way too low to cover my monthly expenses,” Blair said while testifying before Congress.

“In fact, my social security doesn’t even cover my entire rent,” he said. “Fortunately, I also get a military pension because of my military service. So I’m fine, but not everyone is so lucky.”

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Paying is also an issue for Kitty Ruderman of Queens, New York, who has been on Social Security for the majority of her income after retiring from her career as a legal secretary and administrative assistant.

“My rent alone exceeds my monthly social security contributions,” said Ruderman. “I skimp so much and watch where the pennies go. I have to be so very careful or I will soon be using up my meager savings that I urgently need to supplement social security.”

It has become even more difficult in the past year to get through skyrocketing prescription drug and food prices and social security benefits not keeping pace, she said.

It’s also a struggle for those whose benefits have been cut by the Windfall Elimination Commission, according to Mary Widmier, a Houston-based retiree who worked in public education for 36 years.

Widmier started working at the age of 16, attended the University of Houston and became a math teacher. Her career led to other positions including assistant school principal, director of human resources development and human resources manager.

Widmier also worked in the private sector for 21 years. However, the Social Security benefits she earned during this time will be reduced due to the Windfall Elimination Commission. She receives less than $ 120 a month, which is automatically used to cover her Medicare Part B coverage.

There are thousands of people with similar stories, said Widmier.

A social security administration office in San Francisco.

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Most civil servants, including teachers, take less money than they could otherwise make in other industries. Now they are threatened with a reduced pension income.

“We do not ask for more than what we have paid into the system,” said Widmier. “We’re just asking for a fairer formula.”

Two separate bills by the Reps. Richard Neal, D-Mass., And Kevin Brady, R-Texas, could help change that, Widmier said.

There is also broad support for a separate proposal, the Social Security Fairness Act.

The Alliance for Retired Americans announced Thursday that around 77,800 retirees have signed a petition in support of the law. The law would abolish the Windfall Elimination Commission and Government Pension Offset, thereby reducing social security benefits for certain spouses, widows, or widowers who are also receiving state, state, or local pensions.

Granted, it can prove difficult to get a broad social security reform bill that addresses all of the program’s problems and has enough support from both sides of the aisle.

As a result, Rep. Tom Reed, RN.Y., suggested that lawmakers should draft legislation, including issues they can now agree on, such as: B. the protection of widow benefits.

“Instead of waiting for the perfect bill, go with what we can arrange today,” Reed said.

Are you retired and receiving social benefits and struggling to make ends meet? If you’d like to share your story for a future article, email lorie.konish@nbcuni.com.

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