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North Carolina Fair Share

Social Security Op-Ed from Akiba Bird

Social Security Op-Ed from Akiba Bird

Social Security simply needs a few changes to make it stronger

July 15, 2014

Let’s face it: Social Security is an intimidating topic. It feels daunting, with endless components – COLA, “Scrap the Cap,” CPI-E. The new Caregiver Credit Act of 2014, released last week, is yet another complication.

Why we aren’t having a larger public conversation about Social Security is understandable. Due to the program’s complexities, our short attention spans, media coverage and politicians’ framings, the discussion has become a can we keep kicking down the road.

But delaying the conversation makes Social Security harder to strengthen. Our upcoming statewide elections will have a direct effect on national Social Security policy, so the elections are a great place to start.

Social Security is working. It’s not in an urgent crisis, and it doesn’t need to be cut or dismantled, as some claim. But Social Security does need strengthening, and what’s not talked about is how uncomplicated the solutions actually are.

Take the case of Social Security’s role in retirement. What’s needed to retire is often discussed as a three- (or four-) legged stool: pension/investments, savings, Social Security and home ownership. This assumes, of course, we can all earn living wages, buy homes, save and invest.

Many policymakers talk as if everyone retires this way. Except for the most wealthy, that’s far from true. In fact, 88 percent of North Carolinians retire almost solely on Social Security, with an average benefit of $13,576 a year – only $1,131 a month. The four-legged stool is a good goal, but most North Carolinians end up with one leg: Social Security. And current limitations on Social Security make it a wobbly leg at best.

In North Carolina, retirement is often more like riding a unicycle, balanced by a single wheel. And, as Social Security stands, it’s like riding a unicycle with a flat tire, on a tightrope and in the wind.

To strengthen Social Security, we need elected officials who support three straightforward modifications:

Caregiver credit. U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) just released the Social Security Caregiver Credit Act of 2014, an important step in assisting people who work reduced hours (or not at all) to care for our children, elderly and disabled. The caregiver credit gives an earnings credit in the Social Security benefit calculation while individuals care for a child under a certain age, a disabled family member or a senior. Unpaid caregivers are mostly women and low-income earners.

Scrap the cap.Everyone pays Social Security taxes on the first $117,000 of earnings, but then higher earners stop paying taxes. If everyone paid equal taxes, we could stabilize Social Security, a big step toward equality and poverty prevention. Even many Republican North Carolinians support scrapping the cap: In a recent poll, 52 percent of Republicans supported lifting the cap (22 percent were unsure).

Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) Reform.Most retirees walk a tightrope, trying to make ends meet. To make sure retirees aren’t eaten alive by inflation and medical expenses, we should use the CPI-E (Consumer Price Index for the Elderly), a cost of living calculator that considers elders’ spending habits and adjusts for medical expenses. In a recent poll, 62 percent of North Carolinians supported a revised formula (27 percent were unsure).

Essentially, Social Security needs a chance, not cuts, not privatization, not inaction. Many North Carolinians – conservatives and liberals alike – are bystanders in the conversation, and we need to come forward and start the dialogue.

The first step is asking U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan and opponent Thom Tillis to more clearly state their positions on Social Security. Do they want to strengthen or cut it? Do they specifically support the Caregiver Credit Act, Scrap the Cap and COLA? The second step is to consider only candidates who support these changes.

We can’t delay this public conversation, and the upcoming Senate elections are the place to start. We need to force ourselves and our officials to take the lead on strengthening Social Security while we still can. If not, many of us face a very shaky retirement.

Elizabeth Dickinson is an assistant professor in the Kenan-Flagler Business School at UNC-Chapel Hill. Akiba Byrd is executive director of NC Fairshare, based in Raleigh.

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Virginia Organizing talks Social Security with partners from other states in Harrisonburg

Virginia Organizing talks Social Security with partners from other states in Harrisonburg

virginia-organizing new2re-posted from Augusta Free Press

Virginia Organizing hosted a gathering in Harrisonburg over Memorial Day weekend to bring together leaders from Virginia, North Carolina, Louisiana, and Washington, D.C. to develop plans to protect and strengthen Social Security.

Virginia Organizing Treasurer Jay Johnson helped lead the events of the weekend. Johnson said, “It was great to meet with other people from this region to strategize how to build power and make sure Social Security is not only protected, but also made stronger, for generations to come.”

Over the weekend, the group discussed ways to improve Social Security without cutting benefits or changing the way that cost of living adjustments are made.

“Virginia Organizing wants Congress to ‘Scrap the Cap’ on Social Security taxes to make sure those who earn more than $117,000 are paying into Social Security based on their actual earnings, not just the first part of their income,” said Johnson. “We also support providing a caregiver credit to ensure that those who take time off work to care for a loved one aren’t penalized for this in Social Security earning calculations.”

Virginia Organizing has repeatedly requested commitments from U.S. Senator Mark Warner to protect and strengthen the program and protect those receiving Social Security from any cuts.

Groups from across US participate in successful Retirement Security convening

Groups from across US participate in successful Retirement Security convening

From December 9-11 nearly 90 people — primarily grassroots leaders but also staff from CCC and partner organizations — came together in Washington DC to advance our retirement security campaign.  Approximately 20 organizations from 16 states took part in the national convening which included some dynamic panel discussions, multiple protest actions, a press conference with the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and a meeting with one of our biggest Social Security champions, Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio.  In addition to the many state-based organizations — from Washington CAN in the Northwest to the Federation of Child Care Centers of Alabama in the Southeast — seven leaders from the Manufactured Homeowner project also participated in the training, coming from Utah, Pennsylvania and Florida.

RS Meeting 1The gathering kicked off on Monday night with an exercise led by Akiba Bird, director of North Carolina Fair Share, that included drumming and chants and allowed participants to get to know each other and our shared values.  We were then joined by Sarita Gupta, the ED of Jobs with Justice and a leader of the Caring Across Generations campaign, who talked about ways to better connect our respective struggles.

The next morning, it was the Grassroots Ambassadors themselves who took center stage, speaking at two separate panels about the successes and challenges over the course of the 2013 campaign to strengthen Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.  IMG_20131210_094144We were also joined by various leaders from national partner organizations: Alex Lawson of Social Security Works; Terry O’Neil of the National Organization of Women; Maya Rockeymoore of Global Policy Solutions; and John Adler of SEIU.  We wrapped up the day by digging into our 2014 program and strategy and preparing ourselves for the next year of battle.

December 11 was our day to hit the streets. The full group arrived early to the Capital Visitors Center for a meeting with Senator Sherrod Brown from Ohio.  It was an opportunity to thank one of the emerging Social Security champions as well as share stories and strategies.  Next up was a protest action outside the office of the think tank Third Way which has been on the attack against Social Security and progressive Democrats like Brown and Elizabeth Warren who have called for expanding the system (watch video of the action here.)

IMG_20131211_145959Throughout the afternoon leaders met with their respective Representatives and Senators on Capital Hill, and the gathering culminated with a successful press conference organized by the Congressional Progressive Caucus.  Members Raul Grijalva, Keith Ellison and Jan Schakowsky stood alongside leaders from Illinois, Washington, North Carolina and Montana to talk about the need to hold the line against cuts to social programs and continue the fight for a better budget deal.  Check out pictures of the press conference as well as the rest of the convening here.

Senator Brown with leaders from Ohio
Senator Brown with leaders from Ohio


NC Fair Share Ambassadors road trip to DC to promote Social Security expansion

NC Fair Share Ambassadors road trip to DC to promote Social Security expansion

On November 7, a groups of six Grassroots Ambassadors from North Carolina Fair Share shared their stories and proactive agenda for protecting and expanding Social Security with Rep. G. K. Butterfield and Sen. Kay Hagan.

CCC accompanied the community leaders from North Carolina who shared their personal stories and those of other constituents in North Carolina affected by Social Security.  They also talked about specific improvements like the caregiver credit and called on their Members to support strengthening Social Security by signing on to the Harkin bill in the Senate and the Sanchez bill in the House.


SE Grassroots Ambassadors gathering – video recap

SE Grassroots Ambassadors gathering – video recap

This is a presentation from the SE Regional Grassroots Ambassadors Meeting held in Raleigh, NC, June 21-23, 2013.  Groups participating included the Federation of Child Care Providers Alabama (FOCAL), the Federation of Southern Coops (FOSC), Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (CCI), North Carolina Fair Share CDC, and the Welfare Rights Organization (WRO- Louisiana).

Videography & Production done by