Social Security represents a strong commitment to our nation’s seniors. Ever since Ida May Fuller of Vermont received the first Social Security check issued, seniors have had a reliable safety-net to fall back on in retirement and to supplement individual retirement savings or pensions. Over 40 percent of all elderly Americans are kept out of poverty by their monthly benefits, and these benefits are the major source of income for two-thirds of all beneficiaries.
Senator Leahy knows how important Social Security is and how it has helped millions of seniors stay out of poverty for decades and remains critical for so many Vermont seniors to make ends meet. As Congress debates fiscal issues in Washington, it is important to remember that Social Security is not the cause of our nation’s budget problems and that Social Security beneficiaries earn their benefits by working hard and paying into the system.
Senator Leahy strongly believes that America’s seniors deserve the full benefits that they have been promised. There is no clear solution on how to preserve Social Security. But what is certain is that we must begin a serious dialogue about how to gradually reform the program to ensure that it remains strong for current beneficiaries as well as future generations.
How is Social Security Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) Calculated?
The Social Security Act specifies a formula for determining each COLA. In general, a COLA is equal to the percentage increase in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W) from the third quarter of one year to the third quarter of the next. If there is no increase, there is no COLA. The amount of the COLA for Social Security beneficiaries is not voted on each year by Congress, but determined by an automatic formula based on the CPI-W.
What is the Chained CPI and how will it affect you?
Some policy makers have proposed adjusting the way we measure inflation in Social Security, which determines cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) to beneficiaries.
Unfortunately, one of these proposed changes, called the “chained CPI” is an imperfect measure of inflation that would reduce COLAs to beneficiaries over time. These cuts would have a cumulative effect and would disproportionately impact those who receive benefits longer, such as many women, veterans, and people with disabilities. For example, under this proposal it is estimated that by age 85, the Vermonter who began to receive benefits at age 65 would be losing $984 in benefits that year; by age 95, the annual cut would be $1,392.
That is why Senator Leahy signed on as a cosponsor to a Senate Resolution introduced by Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, which states that the Chained Consumer Price Index should not be used to calculate cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security or veterans benefits. To view the text of the resolution please click here.
Government Pension Offset (GPO) and Windfall Elimination Program (WEP)
Senator Leahy is a cosponsor of the Social Security Fairness Act of 2013. This bill would end the unfair practice of reducing the Social Security benefit of a retiree, or their spouse, who also receives a pension not covered by Social Security. Senator Leahy believes that public employees should not be penalized for dedicating their careers to public service. To read reports prepared by the Congressional Research Service about the GPO and WEP please refer to the Related Files section on this page.
Social Security Frequently Asked Questions
Q) What is the future solvency of Social Security?
A) Social Security faces a long term funding imbalance, not an immediate crisis. Both the Social Security Trustees and the Congressional Budget Office project that there will be enough money in the Social Security Trust Fund to continue to pay full benefits for Social Security recipients for at least the next 35 years.
Q) Do Members of Congress pay Social Security?
A) Yes. Before 1984, all federal employees, including Members of Congress, were covered by the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) which was designed as a comprehensive system that did not include payment of Social Security taxes. That changed in 1983, when Congress passed the Social Security Act (P.L. 98_21). That legislation required all Members of Congress, who were elected after 1984, to be covered under Social Security. Today, Members of Congress do pay into Social Security, and they do collect from it just like any other taxpayer.
Q) What other benefits are paid by Social Security?
A) In addition to being the most reliable source of income for many seniors, Social Security also provides spousal benefits, survivor benefits, and disability benefits. To find out if you qualify for these benefits, visit the Social Security website at http://www.ssa.gov
Q) I received an email that read, "Which political party took Social Security from the independent trust fund and put it into the general fund so that Congress could spend it?" Is the information in this email factual?
A) This email is one a few that is circulating on the internet that contains many myths about the history of the Social Security program. The Social Security Administration maintains a section of their website that debunks these myths. You can find this website at: http://www.ssa.gov/history/InternetMyths2.html
You can also read about other Social Security myths here: http://www.ssa.gov/history/InternetMyths.html
For additional information and frequently asked questions about the Social Security program, visit the Social Security Administration's website at: http://www.ssa.gov/history/hfaq.html
- Comment Of Senator Patrick Leahy On The 2013 Social Security COLA Announcement, October 16, 2012
- Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy On The Motion To Invoke Cloture On The Emergency Senior Citizens Relief Act of 2010, December 8, 2010
- Sanders Calls for Emergency Social Security Boost, Leahy Backs Proposal to Help Seniors and Disabled , October 15, 2010
Social Security Administration Board of Trustees 2010 Report
Full Text of the 2010 Annual Report of the Board of Trustees of the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance and Federal Disability Insurance Trust Funds
CRS Report Social Security Cost of Living Adjustment
Congressional Research Service Report on Social Security Cost of Living Adjustment for 2011
The Government Pension Offset (GPO)
CRS Report. Updated March 25, 2011.
Social Security: The Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP)
CRS Report Social Security: The Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP)