Social Security is one of the most important programs ever established in this country, and after 75 years, it continues to deliver as intended. Yet, recent government reports predict that the Social Security Trust Fund could run out of money by 2033. If that happens, Social Security will no longer be able to meet its financial obligations and future retirees will only see 77 percent of the benefits they are due.
I am a strong supporter of Social Security and I’m determined to pass legislation to ensure the Social Security system stays strong for future generations.
Those who suggested Social Security is a handout are just plain wrong. Social Security benefits are a reflection of the amount that retirees pay into the system through a lifetime of hard work. In order to keep the system strong for hard working Alaskans and Americans, we need to make improvements to bolster the program.
That’s why I recently introduced the Retirement and Income Security Act (RAISE) in the Senate. The RAISE Act is a common sense bill to update, enhance and protect Social Security in a fiscally responsible way. The RAISE Act will improve Social Security in three important ways.
• First, the RAISE Act will improve benefits for divorced spouses. Under current law, a divorced spouse only gets benefits if the couple remained married for 10 years. With the RAISE Act, eligibility rules would be phased in beginning at five years of marriage.
• Second, the RAISE Act would establish a new, enhanced benefit for widows and widowers in situations where both spouses have retired. The bill used an alternative calculation to use both spouses’ benefits – deceased and surviving – rather than just the survivor’s benefit. This will result in great benefits for the surviving spouse.
• The third component of the RAISE Act extends eligibility for children of retired, disabled or deceased workers. Under current law, minors and high school students under 19 can get Social Security benefits if their parent is a retired, disabled or deceased worker. Beginning in 2016, this provision extends benefits for full-time students up to age 23.
Though many people don’t realize it, Social Security has never added a dime to the deficit. I believe the program should continue to fully pay for itself as it has always done. That’s why it was important to me to ensure the legislation includes a funding plan to pay for these enhancements. The RAISE Act asks those Americans who can most afford it — those making over $400,000 per year — to pay their fair share toward strengthening the Social Security Trust Fund.
In addition to the RAISE Act, I’m continuing to push for two more bills that will strengthen Social Security, make payments more fair, and keep the program solvent for future generations.
My Protecting and Preserving Social Security Act would extend the solvency of Social Security by lifting the cap on high-income contributions, which this year is $117,000. Not everyone knows this, but once your annual earnings hit that threshold, you no longer have to contribute to Social Security for the rest of the calendar year. That seems unfair to me. My bill would lift the cap and phase out what in effect has become a tax loophole. Higher-income Americans would pay into Social Security all year long just like the rest of us.
My Social Security Fairness Act would repeal unfair reductions to Social Security benefits for people who have worked part of their career in “non-covered” jobs often state or local government or other civil service jobs. These reductions were put into place by an antiquated law but are still punishing people today by reducing benefits they have rightly earned. Removing these penalties would also encourage people willing to work in public service as a second career – like police officers or teachers.
More than 71,000 people in Alaska rely on Social Security. That’s roughly one out of every 10 Alaskans. Not only does Social Security lift tens of thousands of Alaskans out of poverty, it pumps more than $1 billion each year into our economy.
As long as I am in Congress, I will fight to make sure Social Security is solvent and there for Americans who earned it.
• Mark Begich is a U.S. Senator and Democrat from Alaska.