Local Outreach Program Winds Down as Social Security Faces Potential Cuts as Part of Debt Ceiling Plan
Grassroots Program Debunking Social Security Myths Reaches Thousands of Virginia’s Seniors
RICHMOND– As the ink dries on the debt ceiling deal and massive spending cuts loom, a group of young Virginians are wrapping up a summer Social Security education program designed to protect the program from the budget axe.
On August 11, Virginia Organizing, a statewide nonpartisan grassroots organization, will conclude its Summer Social Security Mythbusters Program which sent recent college graduates into senior centers, nursing homes and community centers in Richmond, Hampton Roads, Fredericksburg and Southwest Virginia to speak to thousands of seniors about Social Security’s future and what can be done to protect the program for future generations.
While the Social Security program has escaped the first set of debt ceiling related spending cuts, it remains on the chopping block for $1.5 trillion in spending cuts to be designated in the coming year by a bi-partisan super committee in Congress. As the debt ceiling debate heated up this summer, the Social Security interns gave daily presentations to local seniors and addressed key concerns including raising the retirement age, the program’s long-term solvency and the need to remove the payroll tax cap.
Vanessa Durrant, a VCU Masters of Social Work student has been giving presentations in the Richmond area. “Seniors come up to me with tears welled up in their eyes and tell me that Social Security is a lifeline for them. The benefits are already so modest and many are already struggling. They cannot imagine more cuts and are scared,” said Durrant. “After talking to hundreds of people, I have not found a single resident that is alright with having their benefits cut so that wealthy people do not have to pay their fair share.”
Durrant and her intern partner Erika Schmale, also a Masters Student at VCU, have given dozens presentations to senior centers, churches and civic associations in Richmond, Hopewell, Petersburg, Glen Allen, Hanover and Chesterfield since the program's start in late June.
While most of the summer outreach program has been to senior citizens, cuts to Social Security would affect many children and disabled people. “Since becoming an intern for Virginia Organizing, I have been thinking a lot about the invisible victims of Social Security cuts, surviving children of deceased workers,” said Erika Schmale. “Social Security is the most successful children’s program in America benefiting 4.4 million children a month. How will cuts to Social Security affect these children?”
Across the state in Southwest Virginia, residents struggle with higher-than-average unemployment and a subsequent drop in tax revenue. Many area seniors are deeply concerned about any cuts to the safety net they rely on to survive. “As I talk to senior citizens in Southwest Virginia about the importance of protecting Social Security, I think it is the worried look in the eyes of these older Americans that gets me most. The furrowed brows and years of smile lines inevitably turn to looks of serious concern—concern about the very real ramifications of losing one's livelihood,” said Julie Shepherd Powell, one of Virginia Organizing’s Southwest interns.
Evan McLaughlin, a student at University of Mary Washington, has been speaking to hundreds of seniors in the Fredericksburg area over the last two months and has found that the debt ceiling debate has only ratcheted up the anxiety many seniors feel about the future of Social Security. “I spoke to a woman in Spotsylvania yesterday who could no longer afford to live in her house and was receiving all of her income from Social Security. She was able to receive government help for her apartment,” said McLaughlin. “She told me that the amount of money she gets is enough for a place to live and food, ‘to fill my stomach, nothing more’ and that she is afraid that if she spoke up, the little that she had would be taken away.”
Over the next five months, a congressional super committee will determine what cuts will take place as part of the debt ceiling plan passed on Tuesday. “The fight is far from over,” said Sandra Cook, Chairperson of Virginia Organizing. “We are relieved that the initial spending cuts do not contain cuts to Social Security, but are concerned about cuts that will be made behind closed doors by a super committee. Such crucial decisions should be made in a transparent and accountable way with input from the American people.
“Not only do the overwhelming majority of Americans oppose cutting Social Security, the program does not belong on the chopping block since it does not contribute a single penny to the deficit. Virginia Organizing is deeply concerned about the impact these spending cuts will have on the poor and middle class as well as on the economy and future job creation.”
While the Social Security Mythbusters program is scheduled to end on August 11, Virginia Organizing will continue its work to protect Social Security and set the record straight on the program’s solvency.
“As a senior, I know for a fact that there is a lot of misinformation out there about Social Security. It feels like every time I turn on the television some politician is fear mongering about Social Security,” said Janice “Jay” Johnson, Newport News resident and state board member of Virginia Organizing. “We will continue to set the record straight for seniors and young people alike.”
The Summer Social Security program will end on August 11. Members of the media are invited to attend local Social Security presentations. Contact Julie Blust @ 804-405-6615 or blust@virginia-organizing for a list of local presentations.
The Social Security Mythbusters interns have been blogging about their experiences at: http://www.virginia-
Top Five Social Security Myths Debunked
Myth:Social Security is going broke.
Reality:There is no Social Security crisis. By 2023, Social Security will have a $4.3 trillion surplus! It can pay out all scheduled benefits for the next quarter-century with no changes whatsoever. After 2037, it'll still be able to pay out 75% of scheduled benefits–and again, that's without any changes. The program started preparing for the Baby Boomers retirement decades ago.
Myth:We have to raise the retirement age because people are living longer.
Reality:This is a red-herring to trick you into agreeing to benefit cuts. Retirees are living about the same amount of time as they were in the 1930s. The reason average life expectancy is higher is mostly because many fewer people die as children than did 70 years ago. But those intent on cutting Social Security love this argument because raising the retirement age is the same as an across-the-board benefit cut.
Myth:Social Security adds to the deficit.
Reality:It's not just wrong — it's impossible. By law, Social Security funds are separate from the budget, and it must pay its own way. That means that Social Security can't add one penny to the deficit.
Myth:Benefit cuts are the only way to fix Social Security.
Reality:Social Security doesn't need to be fixed. But if we want to strengthen it, here's a better way: Make the rich pay their fair share. If the very rich paid taxes on all of their income, Social Security would be sustainable for decades to come. Right now, high earners only pay Social Security taxes on the first $106,000 of their income. Bill Gate pays the same amount into Social Security as one of his employees making $106,000 per year!
Myth:The Social Security Trust Fund has been raided and is full of IOUs.
Reality:The Social Security Trust Fund isn't full of IOUs, it's full of U.S. Treasury Bonds. And those bonds are backed by the full faith and credit of the United States. The federal government has never missed a single interest payment on its debts. President Bush wanted to put Social Security funds in the stock market–which would have been disastrous–but luckily, he failed. So the trillions of dollars in the Social Security Trust Fund, which are separate from the regular budget, are as safe as can be.
Virginia Organizing is a statewide grassroots organization that brings people together to create a more just Virginia.