Expand Social Security: Everything We Know About Democrats’ New Push to Strengthen Social Security

Democratic Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, along with Reps. John Larson, Terri Sewell, and Debbie Dingell, announced Thursday the launch of a new group that aims to protect and expand Social Security.

“We are here today to say very loudly and very clearly that at a time when millions of seniors are trying to survive on $12,000 or $13,000 a year, our job is not to cut Social Security. Our job is to expand Social Security so that everyone in America can retire with dignity and respect,” Sanders said in a statement.

The Expand Social Security Caucus

Expand Social Security
Activists participate in a rally urging the expansion of Social Security benefits in front of the White House July 13, 2015. |  Win McNamee/Getty Images

The Expand Social Security Caucus, which is made up of more than 150 members of Congress from both houses, is pushing back against President Trump’s allegation that Democrats are attempting to cut Social Security benefits. At a rally in Montana on Sept. 6, the president claimed Democrats want to “raid” Social Security to fund other benefits programs.

“I’m going to save your Social Security,” Trump told a crowd of supporters in Billings. But Politifact has rated the president’s claims that he is making Social Security and Medicare stronger as “mostly false.” Projected insolvency dates for both programs have been moved forward since Trump’s tax cuts went into effect. Lower-than-expected wage growth has also reduced the amount of money being paid into each trust fund.

How Warren and Sanders hope to save – and expand – Social Security

Warren, Sanders, and other Democrats that are part of the new caucus haven’t yet revealed a specific plan for expanding Social Security. But Democrats have introduced more than a dozen bills in recent years to strengthen and expand the program, which could gain momentum if the party regains control of one or both houses of Congress in the upcoming midterm elections. These include:

  • Proposals to increase the amount of earnings subject to the payroll tax that funds Social Security and Medicare
  • Raising the minimum Social Security benefit to 125% of the federal poverty level
  • Reducing taxes on Social Security benefits for retirees with incomes below $50,000 a year
  • Providing unpaid caregivers with a Social Security earnings credit, which would be used to calculate future retirement benefits
  • Repealing the law that allows Social Security benefits to be garnished to pay student loan debts
  • Eliminating the Windfall Elimination Provision, which reduces Social Security benefits for people who also receive a government pension
  • Adopting the CPI-E (the Consumer Price Index for the elderly) to calculate cost-of-living increases for beneficiaries

Where Social Security stands now

A rally to mark the 70th anniversary of the Social Security Act and to call on U.S. President George W. Bush not to privatize the system.
A rally to mark the 70th anniversary of the Social Security Act and to call on U.S. President George W. Bush not to privatize the system. | Alex Wong/Getty Images

More than 46 million retirees and their dependents currently receive an average of $1,413 a month in Social Security benefits. Another 16.4 million receive disability or survivor benefits.

For many retirees, Social Security is their main or only source of income. Forty-four percent of single beneficiaries and 21% of couples get 90% or more of their income from Social Security. Fifty-seven percent of retirees surveyed by Gallup said Social Security is their major source of income.

Though Social Security is a crucial part of most Americans’ retirement plans, many are not optimistic about where the program is headed. Nearly three-quarters of those surveyed are worried about Social Security’s future. Many suspect that they won’t get benefits when they retire.

They’re right to be worried. The latest projections show that the Social Security trust fund will be depleted by 2034. At that point, the system will be able to pay out 79% of benefits. But some changes – such as raising the amount of wages subject to Social Security tax, as some Democrats have proposed – could hold off a crisis. Other changes, like raising the retirement age or increasing the Social Security tax workers pay, could also address the issue.

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