Poll Findings Give Thumbs Down to Overhauling Social Security and Medicare

Published in Woonsocket Call on February 19, 2017

As the Trump Administration completes its first month in office, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM), lawmakers and union groups gathered to release the findings of a new poll that showed a majority of Americans do not buy into the GOP’s strategy to “fundamentally alter Social Security, the nation’s retirement and disability program and Medicare, the federal health care program for older Americans, and they oppose benefits cuts. Eight out of ten poll recipients favor living the tax cap to fixing Social Security and financially strengthening the program, say the researchers.

The poll findings were released last Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol by NCPSSM’s Max Richtman, with Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD); Rep. John Larson (D-CT); Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-CA); Celinda Lake, President Lake Research Partners; Witold Skwierczynski, President, National Council of SSA Field Operations Locals, Council 220, American Federation of Government Employees; Steve Hill, Director of Retirement Security Campaigns, SEIU; and Nancy Olumekor, Director, American Postal Workers Union Retiree Department.

Don’t Tamper with Our Social Security

“These results prove that Americans want Congress to honor the commitment to all working people who paid into Social Security and Medicare, and keep their hands off these programs,” said Max Richtman, President and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, at the press conference. “This should be a warning to members of Congress that they tamper with our cherished social insurance programs at their peril,” he says.

NCPSSM’s poll findings, of 800 likely voters nationwide, found that 79 percent of the survey respondent’s favor expanding Social Security benefits and 74 percent support paying for it by gradually requiring employees and employers to pay Social Security taxes on wages above $ 127,000, including majorities across party lines.

The recently released poll found that 77 percent oppose raising the Social Security retirement age to 69, and a whopping 93 percent favor allowing Medicare to negotiate to bring down the cost of prescription drugs, and they also overwhelmingly opposed raising Medicare’s eligibility age. Seventy five percent favor Security benefits credit for up to five years of time spent outside the paid workforce caring for young children, aging seniors, or family members with disabilities.

Meanwhile, sixty nine percent of the respondents oppose reducing benefits for workers whose average annual lifetime earnings today are 60 thousand dollars or more, again including majorities across party lines. Seventy-three percent of Democrats oppose this, as do 70 percent of Republicans and 63 percent of Independents.

According to the NCPSSM poll, respondents expressed strong concerns about Social Security not being there when they retire (64 percent) and not being able to pay for costly prescription drug (65 percent). Roughly the same number (63 percent) say they are worried about having enough money in retirement to be financially secure. Just 53 percent say they are worried about not being able to retire when they want for financial reasons. These concerns reflect voters to strong support for protecting each program, and for policies that would increase benefits and reduce the price of prescription drugs, say the researchers.

Researchers also took a look at how respondents prefer to communicate with the Social Security Administration (SSA). They found that 65 percent express a preference to communicate with a “live person” person at the agency (26 percent through a toll free number) if they want to apply for benefits, replace a lost Social Security card, or had questions about their earnings records. About 31 percent prefer getting their information from the SSA’s website, they said.

Finally, NCPSSM’s national poll indicated that respondents prefer to receive their Social Security statement by mail. Overall 64 percent prefer to receive this by mail and 32 percent prefer an electronic statement by email.

Circling the Wagons to Protect Social Security and Medicare

“Social Security and Medicare represent a promise America has made to all those participating in this system,” said Democratic Senator Van Hollen. “Americans overwhelmingly want to strengthen these essential lifelines. I strongly support efforts to ensure that these programs can increase benefits and continue to deliver financial security for generations to come.”

Congressman Larson says that the NCPSSM poll underscores popular support for the kinds of measures he proposes in his Social Security 2100 Act, which keeps the program solvent into the next century while increasing benefits. “Social Security is not an entitlement; its insurance we paid for,” says the Democratic Congressman, calling on President Trump at the press conference to protect and expand Social Security.

Cardenas made an emotional plea at the press conference to preserve Social Security and Medicare by citing a family story. “My grandson’s great-grandmother was saved by Medicare. It’s a matter of dignity and life,” he said. The Democratic Congressman strongly opposes GOP proposals to privatize the nation’s social insurance programs. “Do we value dignity? Do we value life? Make our President and our Congress commit that they will not take it away from you,” he told the press conference attendees.

Witold Skwierczynski, of the American Federation of Government Employees, came to the press conference with a dire warning: Expect customer SSA service to retirees to get worst in the coming years. Staffing in field offices has been cut by 2, 900 (10 percent) since 2010 while work increased 12 percent, he noted, expecting the agency’s workload to go up 32 percent through 2025 due to the retiring baby boomer generation.

Skwierczynski expects Trump’s recent Continuing Resolution to freeze the hiring of federal employees to further increase waiting times at SSA field offices and for 800 number callers.

“President Trump is a hotel man. If he ran his hotels like SSA he would have another bankruptcy. None of his customers would tolerate a 3 to 4 hour wait for room service. However, SSA customers wait hours, days, weeks, months and years for SSA to process their business. That’s not acceptable,” says Skwierczynski.

Nancy Olumekor, Retiree Department American Postal Workers Union, came calling for Congressional support to improve Social Security and Medicare. “Our members did not vote to destroy Social Security and Medicare to replace them with vouchers. Postal workers are opposed to increasing the eligibility age for Medicare and Social Security,” she said.

As President Trump continues to make major changes in federal tax, environmental, labor, education and health policy, NCPSSM and other national aging groups are gearing up for the battle of the century – saving the existing Social Security and Medicare programs for current beneficiaries and future generations. If President Trump and GOP lawmakers view NCPSSM’s poll results as “fake news” they do so at their own risk. Actions to overhaul these two popular domestic programs will send the nation’s voters to the polls in four years. Tampering with Social Security and Medicare may well be hazardous to your political career.

NCPSSM’s poll, conducted by Lake Research Partners from January 4 to January 7, 2017, was sponsored by the American Federation of Government Employees, American Postal Workers Union, Service Employees International Union and the United Steelworkers

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A Couple’s Unofficial Guide to (Surviving) Retirement

Published in Woonsocket Call on December 18, 2016

Some people will tell you that nothing is for certain in life but death and taxes. But, Author Nora Hall adds another truism for us to think about. That is, retirement guarantees that couples are going to face new issues in their relationship. No ifs, ands or buts.

Hall, a 72-year North Kingston resident, recalls, “We were surprised that retirement was a bigger adjustment than we thought it would be.”

The freelance writer began researching the joys and frustrations of retirement when her husband Art, a former president of a manufacturing company, retired and they saw the need for major adjustments in their relationship.

Sharing Retirement Woes

As a new retiree, Hall admitted she was unsure of how to deal with these life stage changes and immediately began to seek out information on adjusting to a retirement marriage. Since she found no book or articles on the topic, Hall began to interview other retirees. As she learned from their personal experiences, she realized that there was a need for a book.

“I never thought that I would ever write this book,” says Hall. But she ultimately penned the 113-page paperback book, entitled, Survive Your Husband’s Retirement, published by Narragansett-based EBook Bakery.

“This book was just the natural extension of my freelance writing,” she notes, adding that it took over three years to write and publish the first edition of her book. The second edition only took one year to produce because she had already accumulated a lot of the research.

However, Hall admitted, “I was a lot fussier about the look and feel of this book.”

Hall notes that her skills in interviewing others and writing about their messages and concerns came from jobs throughout her professional career where she wrote copy for appeal letters sent to potential donors to the New England Colleges Fund and then the VNA in Massachusetts. She began her career as an elementary school teacher before moving to arts administration where she coordinated the Artist in Residence and the Boston Globe Scholastic Art Award Programs in Massachusetts.

In the process of talking with hundreds of retired woman, sometimes even their husbands, Hall gleaned from these interviews five areas (a husband’s tendency to be bossy, always there, dependent, angry or to never listen) that caused conflict in the retirement relationship along with solutions that these couples discovered that ultimately would maintain harmony in their marriage. She decided that she would share this information with other retired couples by writing a book.

Tips to Fix Your Relation

Hall’s first edition released in 2013 (along with a second edition, published last month, which provides more stories and couple coping tips) goes far beyond simple identification of issues. In addition, she provides reasons behind the common feelings many men experience when they first leave their life’s work and the potential conflicts many couples face.

In her books, she also offers the solutions older couples shared with her that provide examples for newly retired couples to implement as they struggle to find harmony in this new life stage. Most of all Hall strives to help couples see that they are not alone and that laughter is the best solution for all of us to have and details some quirks that need to be tolerated, ignored or altered.

Hall observes “A lot of people initially dread retirement but when they work at making it a positive experience it can really be a wonderful time in your life. The more we develop our companionship as a couple the difficulties we face are more manageable.”

So, what is the secret for older couples ultimately having a fulfilling relationship?

“Communication and Compromising,” can be key to fixing a retiree’s relationship difficulties, says Hall.

Spreading the Gospel

Hall is focused on getting the word out about her book by speaking at public libraries, churches, and women groups and Rotary Clubs throughout the Ocean State and even at the Ocean Life Long Institute, an adult learning program based at University of Rhode Island. The Rhode Island author is even planning a trip to Anchorage, Alaska, to spread the gospel that a couple’s retirement “can be an exciting new chapter in their life.”

Hall received her undergraduate degree from Dunbarton College, Washington, D.C. and a Masters in Education from Boston University. In addition to her Survive your Husband’s Retirement, Hall blogs regularly on her website, and offers workshops on adjusting to retirement. Her family consists of two grown children and their spouses, six grandchildren and one, now seasoned, retired husband. She and her husband Art moved to Wickford, R.I. in 2000.

Contact Nora to schedule workshops or raise a retirement question via email at nora@survieve yourhusbandsretirement.com. To purchase a copy of the second edition of Survive your Husband’s Retirement, go to Amazon.com.

Time to Change how Social Security Calculates ‘COLA’

Published in Woonsocket Call on October 23, 2016

On Tuesday, September 18, the U.S. Social Security Administration announced that the nation’s 65 million Social Security beneficiaries will be automatically be paid a minuscule 0.3 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to their monthly checks in 2017. The average monthly Social Security benefit next year will be $1,360, $5 more than now.

According to AARP, 153,349 Rhode Islanders received Social Security checks as of the end of 2014. Also, 22 percent of Rhode Island retirees depend on their Social Security check for 90 percent or more of their income. That’s chump change, not a lot of money for Rhode Island retirees to buy groceries, gas, or even catch up on their bills.

The federal agency detailed other changes that we can expect, too. Beginning in 2017, the amount of your earnings subject to the Social Security tax increases from $118,500 to $127,200. It’s estimated that this tax change impacts about 12 million of the 173 million people who pay into the retirement system.

Next year’s Social Security COLA increase is the smallest in a decade and comes after no increase in 2016 (zero increases also occurred in 2010 and 2011). Seventy percent of Medicare beneficiaries are protected by a hold-harmless rule, which keeps Social Security benefit payments from decreasing because of increased Medicare Part B premiums. However, 30 percent of Medicare beneficiaries (including high wage earners, those enrolled in Medicare and not yet receiving Social Security, and newly enrolled in Medicare) could see cost increases in their Medicare Part B premiums that cover their visits to doctors and hospitals. The increased premium costs will be deducted directly from their Social Security check.

Chump Change COLA Won’t Pay Bills

Responding to the federal government’s disappointing COLA announcement, AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins, whose Washington, DC aging group represents 37 million members, charges in a statement that one major domestic issue ignored by presidential debate moderators and one that demands attention from candidates is the future of Social Security.

“Over the last five years, Social Security COLA’s have remained small or nonexistent at 1,7 percent or lower, even though every cent can matter to beneficiaries and their families. After last year’s zero COLA, this year’s announcement doesn’t offer much help to the millions of families who depend on their Social Security benefits. As prescription prices skyrocket and Medicare premiums and other health costs increase, many older Americans have understandable concerns. Along with many groups, AARP has also asked Congress to ensure that Medicare premiums and deductibles don’t skyrocket next year,” says Jenkins.

Adds Max Richtman, President/CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM), “No one can say with a straight face that providing the average senior with an additional four dollars a month will come even close to covering the true cost of living that retirees face. The average senior spends more than $5,000 a year on healthcare costs alone. A $4 Social Security COLA doesn’t even make a dent in covering rising costs for seniors.”

Richtman asserts that next year’s tiny COLA increase only continues the trend of historically low cost-of-living adjustments for retirees. “Over the past eight years, the current COLA formula has led to average increases of just over 1%, with three of those years seeing no increase at all. For the average senior, the 2017 COLA will mean an extra $4.00 per month which would barely cover the average cost of one Lipitor pill, a prescription drug frequently prescribed to seniors,” he says.

Richtman notes, “I’ve asked seniors at town hall meetings around the country how many of them think the COLA represents their true cost of living — laughter is always the response. We should move to a COLA formula that takes a more accurate measure of seniors’ expenses, which is a CPI for the elderly. The CPI-E has been in the experimental phase since 1982. It’s time to finish the job by fully funding the development of a more accurate COLA formula.”

Congress Must Legislatively Fix COLA Formula

In media releases, Rhode Island lawmakers call for tweaking how Social Security calculates Social Security COLAs.

Democratic U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who sits on the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, calls next year’s Social Security COLA increase an “insult.” He says, “For the fifth year in a row, Washington’s outdated formula has resulted in zero or next to zero cost of living adjustment for Social Security benefits. For the fifth year in a row, Rhode Island seniors will have to stretch their budgets to cover the rising cost of the basics, like food, housing, bills, and prescriptions. They didn’t bargain for this when they paid into Social Security over a lifetime of hard work. Congress needs to change the way we calculate Social Security COLAs.”

Adds, Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), “This is completely unacceptable. The method for calculating cost of living adjustments is completely broken and fails to reflect the costs of gods and services seniors buy in Rhode Island and across the country.”
The Rhode Island Congressman calls for the Republican House Leadership to seriously consider pending legislation that will ensure that cost of living adjustments reflect the goods and services Rhode Island seniors actually buy. “Speaker Ryan should immediately bring the Protecting and Preserving Social Security Act to the floor so we can replace this outdated method for calculating cost of living adjustments with a model that actually meets the needs of Rhode Island seniors,” said Cicilline.

During the last Congress, the Senate and House controlled GOP have consistently kept legislative proposals from being considered that were crafted to bring needed reforms to the nation’s Social Security and Medicare programs. A newly elected Democratic President and a Congress controlled by Democrats might just be the political fix necessary to finally do the job that is ensuring the financial long-term solvency of these two domestic entitlement programs

Survey: Many Put Retirement on Hold

Published in Woonsocket Call on May 15, 2016

The Associated Press (AP)-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, funded by The Alfred Sloan Foundation, released a study this month that finds that departing the workforce at the traditional retirement age of 65 is no longer a reality for most older Americans. This new study extends the research of an earlier 2013 retirement study to look at efforts made by older workers to improve career skills and their plans to adjust the parameters of work in later stages of their work life. It also takes a look at a variety of implications of the trend of working longer along with the motivations for doing so.

The 10 page report, released on May 10, 2016, finds that there are large numbers of older Americans who are currently, or who expect to be, working longer. However, researchers caution that this does not necessarily mean that older workers are continuing with the same employment circumstances indefinitely. Many are either reducing their hours to part-time status or are planning to switch to a new employer or even a new field. (The AP-NORC study confirms the findings of an AARP retirement study reported in my September 14, column, entitled “Still Getting the Job Done” that noted “new retirement activity.”)

The Graying of America’s Work Force

The AP-NORC survey comes at a time when the size of the nation’s older population is larger than it has ever been and projected to keep growing, say the researchers. Between 2003 and 2013, the number of Americans age 65 and older rose from 35.9 million to 44.7 million. In the next quarter century, this number is expected to rise to 82.3 million. The percentage of the overall population that falls within this group will rise from 14.1 percent in 2013 to 21.7 percent in 2040, notes the study.

“The circumstances and future plans of older Americans must be well understood by decision-makers,” said Trevor Tompson, director of The AP-NORC Center. “Not only are older Americans going to work longer, but 4 in 10 respondents are planning to change career fields in the future. These results point to significant changes in the American workforce with impacts likely felt by workers and employers.”

No Plans for Retirement

Here is a sampling of key findings reported in The AP-NORC’s “Working Longer” study:

According to the survey, a quarter of older workers say they plan to never retire, with this response being more common among lower-income workers than higher-income workers. Specifically, 33 percent of those earning less than $50,000 a year saying they will never retire, compared with 20 percent of those who earn $100,000 or more.

The findings also indicate that more than half of older workers plan to be employed past the traditional retirement age of 65 or already have worked past this age. Additionally, six in 10 older workers age 50 to 64 plan to work past the age of 65. Nearly half of those who are 65 and older say they already work or plan to work during this later stage of life, notes the study.

The study reveals that members of the workforce who are age 65 and older are not limiting themselves to occasional work–this group reports an average of 31 hours per week in the workplace.

Additionally, more than 4 in 10 Americans age 50 and older have spent at least 20 years working for the same employer at some point in their careers. These workers are more excited and less anxious about retirement than those without such long histories with a single employer, says the study..

The findings also show that a majority of the older Americans who are planning to remain in or rejoin the workforce are planning to switch either professional fields or employers in the future. Those who are age 65 and older are especially likely to plan a change. In addition, a sizeable minority of older workers are taking steps to keep their skill sets fresh by pursuing job training or additional education.

Finally, a quarter of adults age 50 and older have looked for a job in the past five years. Many of them are encountering difficulties in the job market, with a third reporting that it has been so difficult that they’ve given up looking at some point during their search.

Fear of Outliving Retirement Savings

“One could say that the [The AP-NORC] survey simply leads us back to the same ‘old’ story,” said AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell. “But what is ‘old’ and what are we going to do about it? The survey provides more data to underscore the need for policy changes as well as a refocusing on employment and retirement. In a single generation, the world has changed. On the upside, the numbers reflect people in better health working longer, and many of those folks continue to be fulfilled in their jobs. But we all know that for most people this trend stems from the fear of outliving savings, often compounded by the inability to save substantially for retirement.

“Worries about Social Security are in the mix, also, as people worry that benefits someday may not cover the cost of housing, food and healthcare. The thought of any future reduction in Social Security benefits is daunting. That’s why AARP continues to ask presidential candidates to ‘Take a Stand,” by providing specific plans to address necessary changes in the program. As we have been saying, doing nothing is not an option.

“One of the encouraging trends revealed in the survey is that many workers over 65 say they are certain that they will change jobs or careers before they retire. It says to me that the message is kicking in that reaching what we once accepted as ‘retirement age’ no longer holds people back.”

A total of 1,075 interviews were conducted for this AP-NORC survey with adults age 50 and older representing the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. The combined response rate is 14.2 percent. The overall margin of sampling error is +/- 3.9 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level, including the design effect. The margin of sampling error may be higher for subgroups.

GAO Report Reveals Social Security Benefits Gap between Rich, Poor

Published in Woonsocket Call on May 1, 2016

We intuitively know that there is a growing income gap between America’s rich and poor. We heard it for months during the presidential democratic debates. But a newly released GAO report documents this charge, the disparities and their impact on Social Security Benefits.

Growing disparities in life expectancy between America’s rich and poor is eroding the progressive nature of Social Security. A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, “Shorter Life Expectancy Reduces Projected Lifetime Benefits for Lower Income,” requested by Senator Bernie Sanders, shows that low-income American men (making about $20,000 a year) will lose 11 percent to 14 percent of their lifetime Social Security benefits while high-income men (making $80,000 annually) will see a 16 percent to 18 percent benefit boost due to this growing gap.

Life Expectancy Impacts SSA Benefits

The GAO study, released on April 4, 2016, found that raising the Social Security retirement age would result in even fewer benefits for lower-income groups. Lower-income men are living between 4 and 13 fewer years than higher-income men, and lower-income women are living between 2 and 14 fewer years than higher-income women.

“Poverty should not be a death sentence,” said Sanders, who serves as ranking member on the Primary Health and Retirement Security Subcommittee. “When over half of older workers have no retirement savings, we need to expand, not cut, Social Security so that every American can retire with the benefits they’ve earned and the dignity they deserve,” he says.

According to 64 page GAO report, the wealthiest Americans are not only living longer and collecting more in Social Security benefits, they are also contributing less of their income toward Social Security. Almost all of the income gains over the past three decades have gone to those earning above the $118,500 earnings cap and have therefore been exempt from Social Security taxes, costing the Social Security Trust Fund over $1.1 trillion, says the report.

“Today, the wealthiest Americans contribute less to Social Security than at any other time in recent history. We must reject calls to raise the retirement age and instead strengthen Social Security by ensuring millionaires and billionaires pay their fair share,” Sanders said.

Max Richtman, President and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM), says that the GAO report is especially important when you consider the push in Congress to raise Social Security’s retirement age to reduce benefits. “Forcing average Americans to delay retirement until 70, as suggested by some in Washington, would mean even smaller benefits for lower-income groups,” he says.

Richtman notes that NCPSSM has long opposed increasing the Social Security retirement age, stating that it is “nothing but a cruel cut in benefits” The GAO report shows exactly how cruel it would be, he says.

Instead of cutting Social Security, Richtman calls on Congress to boost benefits so that retirement income program can continue to fulfill its promise providing an adequate base of income for America’s seniors.

Lawmakers Push to Protect Social Security

Sanders, a presidential Democratic candidate, has introduced legislation that would ensure that Social Security would be able to pay every benefit owed to every eligible American for the next 58 years. His plan would increase benefits by more than $1,300 a year for seniors with less than $16,000 in annual income. This includes boosting yearly cost-of-living adjustments by making the consumer price index better reflect seniors’ rising costs for health care and prescription medicine.

To shore up the retirement program’s trust fund, the Senator would lift the cap on taxable income so everyone who makes more than $250,000 a year would pay the same percentage of their income into Social Security as middle-class working families.

“This report reinforces the importance of strengthening Social Security and preserving the guarantee of Medicare, especially for working and middle class Rhode Islanders,” said Congressman Cicilline (D-RI), who is a co-sponsor of the Protecting and Preserving Social Security Act. “After a lifetime of hard work, Rhode Islanders should be able to retire with economic security and peace of mind, he says, pledging to continue his efforts to support “commonsense” legislation that strengthen Social Security benefits.

The GAO study is a warning that proposals to raise the retirement age “would fall hardest on those who can least afford it,” says Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). As a founding member of the Defending Social Security Caucus, Whitehouse plans to explore ways to strengthen the Social Security, “the bedrock of American retirement security.”

GAO made no recommendations in this report. However, in comments the Social Security Administration (SSA) agreed with GAO’s finding that it is important to understand how the life expectancy in different income groups may affect retirement income. The federal agency sees financial literacy as a key factor in preparing for a “secured retirement.”

According to a SSA official, “Social Security offers one of the best tools for the public to plan for their retirement and educate themselves about their benefits – a my Social Security account which is a secure, personalized online account that can be created at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount. With a my Social Security account, people can check their Social Security Statement to learn about future Social Security benefits, verify annual earnings, and plan for their financial future. More than 23 million people have already created secure, convenient accounts,” he says.

In recent years Congress has looked for ways to keep the Social Security program afloat by adjusting Social Security tax contributions, increasing retirement age, and reducing benefit amounts. Now with the release of the new report findings, the message is clear. Congress must not tinker with Social Security until it understands the unanticipated impact on those receiving the benefit checks, especially on the lower-income retirees.

For more information, contact Charles Jeszeck at (202) 512-7215 or jeszeckc@gao.gov.

Social Security Gets Attention at Debate

GOP Candidates Share Their Plans for Shoring Up System’s Solvency

Published in Woonsocket Call on March 12, 2016

Last Thursday, the four surviving G0P contenders for president at the CNN Republican debate at the Bank United Center on the campus of the University of Miami, focused on meaty policy issues and not theatrics. Previous debates were heated and sparks flew between candidates. But many political wonks consider this one to be subdued, may be even a little boring. Like the other 11 debates, on March 10 Ohio Governor John Kasich, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, Businessman Donald Trump and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, gave their two cents on scores of policy issues including, the right to bear arms, trade, jobs, illegal immigrants, education, national security, fighting ISIS, Iran’s nuclear deal and protecting Israel. But one political hot potato issue, Social Security, even got a little more air time during this debate.

With Florida having the highest percentage of retirees in the country, with nearly 3.1 million residents receiving a Social Security check, CNN Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash, brought Social Security into the debate by asking the candidates how they would keep the nation’s retirement program afloat for future generations.

Bash called on Rubio to explain his position on rising the retirement age and reducing benefits for wealthy retirees. The Florida Senator said he would not cut Social Security checks, joking that “I’m against any changes to Social Security that are bad for my mother, a Social Security recipient.”

Younger Generations Take Brunt of GOP Fix for Social Security

Rubio warned that Social Security will ultimately go bankrupt taking the country down with it. So, here’s his fix. “So what it will require is people younger, like myself, people that are 30 years away from retirement, to accept that our Social Security is going to work differently than it did for my parents,” he noted.

The 44- year-old Florida Senator, called for increasing the retirement age of younger persons to age 68 ultimately to age 70, suggesting that Social Security checks should not “grow as fast as someone who made less money.”

“Medicare could very well become the option of using my Medicare benefit to buy a private plan that I like better. Medicare Advantage does that now,” said Rubio.
Explaining what he favors making changes to Social Security, Rubio noted that “in less than five years, only 17 percent of our budget will remain discretionary; 83 percent of the federal budget in less than five years will all be spent on Medicare, Medicaid, the interest on the debt.”

CNN moderator Bash called on Trump to explain why he did not want to raise the Social Security retirement age and his rationale for not wanting to cut benefits to wealthy retirees.

Trump responded by saying that his democratic opponents oppose cutting the retirement program, evening wanting to give recipients “even more.” The businessman, becoming more of a politician, clearly sees how the heated political issue, of making changes to Social Security, will bring votes to the Democrats. ”And that’s what we’re up against. And whether we like it or not, that is what we’re up against,” he says.

“I will do everything within my power not to touch Social Security [either making benefit cuts or rising the eligibility age”. Trump believes the solution is “to make this country rich again; to bring back our jobs; to get rid of deficits; to get rid of waste, fraud and abuse, which is rampant in this country.” He notes that catching improper retirement payments will also increase the solvency of the program.

Time Can Allow a Fix for Social Security Program

In response to those warning about the impending bankruptcy of the Social Security program if changes are not made, Trump says he would have a “a long-time to go,” possibly over 20 years, to increase the solvency of the program. It seems that he does believes that time will be on his side to fix Social Security, if he becomes president.

“The numbers don’t add up,” charges Rubio, to Trump’s assertion that reducing fraud and waste and in Social Security, the nation’s foreign aid programs and better purchasing policies. He chides both the Democrats and GOP for taking too long to “deal with” the solvency of Social Security.

With the spotlight on Cruz, the Texas Senator explained his advocacy for allowing younger workers to put some of their Social Security taxes into a 401 (k) accounts even with the

As president, Cruz pledges that he will not make any changes to Social Security that will impact anyone at or near retirement. “Every benefit will be protected to the letter,” he says, “But for younger workers, we need to change the rate of growth of benefits so it matches inflation instead of exceeding inflation.”

Finally, CNN moderator Bash, reminded Kasich of his position of cutting retirement payments. The Ohio Governor told a New Hampshire voter: “Get over cuts to Social Security benefits,” he says.

Kasich brought up his 1999 plan to save Social Security by allowing young people to have private retirement accounts. During a light hearted moment, Kasich quipped this memorable quote: “Now there are more 18-year-olds who believe they have a better chance of seeing a UFO than a Social Security check and we have a lot of seniors who are very nervous.”

Kasich’s plan to save Social Security is quite simple. “If you’ve had wealth throughout your lifetime, when the time comes to be on Social Security, you’ll still get it. It will just simply be less. And for those people who depend on that Social Security, they’ll get their full benefit. That’s the way it will work. And we don’t have to monkey around with the retirement age. And how do I know that? I’ve done all this before,” he told millions watching the two hour debate.

The writing is on the wall. 2016 GOP candidates for president, except Trump, look to make changes to Social Security to ratchet up the program’s solvency. Those calling for change say they won’t increase program eligibility, cut benefits or privatize the program, to impact aging baby boomers nearing retirement or for current Social Security recipients.

While differing on their political strategies, Democratic presidential contenders — former Secretary of State and New York Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders, — seek to strengthen and expand Social Security.

Generation’s X, Y and Z might will consider looking closely at Democratic and Republican presidential candidate positions on fixing Social Security. November’s winner might just tinker with your future retirement program or slash benefits, ultimately impacting how you will financially survive in your retirement years.

Retirement Survey Bleak for Ocean State

Published in Pawtucket Times on February 1, 2016

Here we go again. This month, America’s tiniest state gets outed as being the most unfavorable state to live out your retirement years. According to a new WalletHub study, “2016’s Best & Worse States to Retire,” when compared to all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, Rhode Island came in dead last when compared against 24 metrics falling in one of these three categories (Affordability, Quality of Life and Health Care).

WalletHub, an internet site that calls itself “a personal finance Web site, taps Florida as being the top state to live your retirement years, followed by Wyoming, South Dakota, South Carolina and Colorado. The in-depth analysis, geared to identifying the most retirement-friendly states, gives the Ocean States the distinct of being the worst place to live in your later years, followed by the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Connecticut and Vermont.

As to affordability, WalletHub looked at the adjusted cost of living, tax friendliness of a state, it’s taxation on pensions and Social Security income, and annual cost of in-home services. Rhode Island was ranked 51 (the worst) in affordability for retirees. In zeroing in on this specific variable, the state came in 41st in adjusted cost of living; 45th in annual cost of in-home services and 48th in taxpayer rankings.

For a state’s quality of life, WallettHub zeroed in on an array of variables including the number of theatres, museums, music venues, golf courses. The researchers also checked out crime rates, weather, the number people age 65 and older and whether the state’s labor is elderly friendly. A sampling of Rhode Island specific rankings for this variable include a ranking of 35th for Museums per Capita; 42nd for Theaters per Capita; and 48th for the number of golf courses per Capita; and 32nd in having employed residents age 65 and over.

As for health care, the study examined the number of family physicians, dentists, nurses, and health-care facilities per 100,000 residents, the ranking of the state’s public hospitals, the resident’s life expectancy and emotional health, even taking a look at the death rate for people age 65 and older. Rhode Island ranks 49th in number of family physicians per 100,000 Residents.

WallettHub analyst, Jill Gonzalez, says that for Rhode Island to become a mecca for retirees, state lawmakers must reconsider how they tax Social Security and pensions. The state’s current tax policy “is not at “all friendly toward retirees,” she adds.

According to Gonzalez, the state’s cost of living index is also high at 122 while the national index is 100. This means that if the cost of goods and services nationwide is $100, the Rhode Island retirees will pay $122. Annual costs to pay for home care are nearly $54,000 per year in Rhode Island and state policy makers must find a way to reduce this key community-based service.
Statewide Reactions to Web site Survey

These surveys aggregate data that does not encourage retirement here,” observes AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell. “They do not fully measure quality of life or how the proximity to Boston and New York City make Rhode Island attractive to many retirees. But you often hear people talk about retiring in states where lower taxes and deflated housings prices suggest that retirement income will go dramatically farther.

“The tax issue is a reality driven by the state’s so-called ‘structural deficits’ that have resulted in cities and towns raising property and excise taxes. Meanwhile, hikes in fees and new surcharges have added to the tax burden. Legislative leaders face a great challenge in reversing this trend.

“Many people in their 40s and 50s who want to retire in Rhode Island can save more wisely for retirement and find a way to make it work. Anyone entering retirement now with little savings and expecting to rely primarily on Social Security is faced with difficult decisions.

“So, clearly the survey means different things to different people. Few would disagree that Rhode Island is a great place to retire – maybe one of the best places in the nation. If you can afford it.”

Edward Mazze, Distinguished University Professor of Business Administration, says, “I cannot disagree with the quantitative findings in the study. Behind the numbers are two critical factors that have an impact on retiring in Rhode Island – first, the Rhode Island economy has barely grown in the last eight years – second, the negative reputation of the state with government leaders going to jail, high property taxes, poor school systems and unfunded public pension and health programs.”

Mazze calls on the Rhode Island General Assembly to raise the state estate tax level to the same level as the federal estate tax level and exempt social security benefits from state taxes no matter what the income level. “The legislature has to reduce sales taxes and fees, be more transparent in its operations so that individuals trust government actions and fund the social services that retirees need,” he says.

But even with these negative findings retirees should Rhode Island as place to live because of its strategic location, transportation facilities and cultural and recreational activities. However, he acknowledges that “with the high cost of living in Rhode Island and fewer part-time job opportunities for retirees it is difficult to promote the state as a place to retire.”

Ernie Almonte, Rhode Island’s former auditor and partner at RSM US, LLP, a company that performs audit, tax and consulting services, says the changes in how the state taxes Social Security made by lawmakers last year was a good first step. But the former candidate for State Treasurer urges Governor Gina Raimondo and House and Senate Leadership to take a look at the state’s estate tax in the upcoming session. “I believe last year’s changes made by lawmakers was a move in the right direction but we cannot forget the legislative change to the estate cliff effect. “This certainly is a deciding factor for retirees looking to a place to settle down in their retirement years,” he adds.

Almonte also encourages state lawmakers to sit down with the Rhode Island Society of CPA’s to discuss tax policy. “Having a robust discussion on the role of tax policy to pay for necessary services and investments balanced by the ability to pay and the need to pay would be quite helpful to the long run,” he says.
House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello sees the business climate and economic outlook improving as he works to make the state’s tax structure more competitive with neighboring states. He says that the WallettHub survey did not take into account the repeal of state income tax for most Social Security recipients. The State offers retirees “a great quality of life with easy access to our beaches and we have excellent cultural attractions, restaurants, hospitals and universities, he says.

As she has said over her first year, Governor Gina Raimondo is “laser focused” on improving the quality of life for all Rhode Islanders, says deputy press secretary Katie O’Hanlon. “We’ve made a lot of progress over the past year, including eliminating state taxes on Social Security benefits for low and middle-income seniors and increasing funding for Meals on Wheels. However, we can always find ways to improve, says O’Hanlon.

It’s time for the Rhode Island General Assembly to get serious with enacting legislative proposals to attract retirees, more important to keep them from leaving for other retirement havens. Why not do a thorough review of tax policies of WalletHub’s best five places to retire and seek out best tax practices of other states? In the upcoming legislative session, Governor Raimondo and House and Senate leadership might consider reaching out to AARP Rhode Island and aging groups, along with the Rhode Island Society of CPAs, to organize a tax summit, seeking creative ways to tweak the state’s tax code to retain and attract retirees.

This WebHub study can be found at  http://www.wallethub.com/edu/best-and-worst-states-to-retire/18592/.