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Local forums boost movement to strengthen Social Security


(June 13, 2014) — The goal of preserving and strengthening Social Security and passing it on to future generations continues to gain momentum.

On June 4th and 5th, Social Security Works WA, Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action, Economic Opportunity Institute (EOI), and National Organization for Women (NOW) sponsored two well-attended forums. More than 250 people in Seattle and Bellingham learned about how Social Security works and what we can do to make a stronger program. In addition, a there was a presentation to the Washington Education Association annual meeting of retirees providing another large audience for education and mobilization.

ss-forum_watkins-marilynMarilyn Watkins, EOI Policy Director, (pictured at right) delivered an excellent primer entitled “Social Security 101” so all attendees had a common base of knowledge. Everyone understood that the litany about Social Security going broke is simply not true. On the other hand, Social Security benefits can be increased and full benefits can be provided for the remainder of this century in a very simple manner — provided there is the political will — Just Scrap the Cap!

NOW President Terry O’Neill gave a stirring presentation explaining how critical Social Security is for women. She discussed the need to create an important change to Social Security, a “care credit.” This credit would assign an annual dollar value for women or men who have to leave wage work to care for a child, spouse or parent.

At the present time, Social Security benefits are determined by averaging the 35 highest wage-earning years. Many people — mostly women but but a growing number of men — leave the paid work force to provide care. They are assigned zero income for the years they perform this very useful societal work. President O’Neill called for assigning the medium wage for that work so that people who do the work are not penalized when calculating Social Security benefits.


(Click here for more photos from the forum.)

O’Neill also discussed how unreasonable the $117,000 cap on Social Security is. All earnings above that cap are not subject to Social Security taxes, which means that those who make the most money pay a lower effective tax rate than middle- and low-income workers. She pointed out that the debate on Social Security in Washington, D.C. has shifted significantly with more and more elected officials calling for Scrapping the Cap and increasing Social Security benefits.

larsen-ricksmith-adam-newSpeaking at the Seattle forum was Rep. Adam Smith (D-10th) who is co-sponsoring H.R. 3118, the Strengthening Social Security Act. In Bellingham, Rep. Rick Larsen (D-2nd), also one of the co-sponsors of the Strengthening Social Security Act, spoke. Both Representatives discussed how Social Security is becoming more critical as an income source for seniors, with the decline of defined benefit pensions and the failure of 401(k)s to meet the need for additional income beyond Social Security benefits. H.R. 3118 would Scrap the Cap and increase Social Security benefits for all beneficiaries. The audiences at the forums expressed their appreciation for the two representatives who have joined Rep. Jim McDermott (D-7th) in supporting this important piece of legislation now co-sponsored by more than half of the members of the Democratic Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Then on Tuesday, June 10, Sens. Mark Begich (D-AL) and Patty Murray (D-WA) took to the Senate floor to announce new legislation to expand Social Security benefits!

murray-pattyThe Retirement and Income Security Enhancement Act of 2014 (or RAISE Act) would increase benefits for many divorced spouses and widows or widowers. It would also extend the length of benefits to the children of retired, deceased and disabled workers, restoring benefits that were cut in the 1980s. According to Sen. Murray’s website, people earning more than $400,000 would be required to pay 2% of their income above $400,000 into the Social Security Trust Fund. This additional contribution by those who can clearly afford it would pay for the additional benefits and extend the surplus in the Social Security Trust Fund for one year.

While this is a new and good development, Scrapping the Cap would extend the surplus in the Trust Fund for the next 75 years, with the increased benefits.

Our efforts are bearing fruit. The debate in Congress is much less about how much to cut Social Security benefits, but rather how much to expand them. The addition of Senator Murray as a co-sponsor of the RAISE Act of 2014 is a major development. As a member of Democratic leadership, Senator Murray’s co-sponsorship signals a significant shift within the Democratic Party.

Republicans and Wall Street billionaires can no longer claim that Social Security expansion is a fringe issue. With Democratic leadership behind the RAISE Act of 2014, it is clear that more and more elected officials are standing with the American people in agreeing to preserve and strengthen Social Security.

stern-robby-14Robby Stern is President of Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action, chairs Social Security Works-Washington, and serves on the Executive Board of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO. For more information, visit

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