President Obama’s declaration that Social Security should be expanded, and not cut, has been applauded with great enthusiasm by groups nationwide which work to protect Social Security for everyone.
Among the groups praising Obama’s stance were the Center for Community Change (CCC), ONE Northside, Virginia Organizing, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, The Contact Center, and Grassroots Ambassadors affiliated with CCC.
“The wealthy should have been paying their fair share from the get go but I’m glad to see President Obama take a stand on this urgent issue,” said Grassroots Ambassador Edward Williams with the Contact Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. “Getting an increase in Social Security would help make it easier to pay the monthly bills. I’m a Vietnam veteran and turning 69 this August. I’m proud to be part of this movement to expand Social Security!”
“As someone who would benefit greatly from increased Social Security benefits I applaud President Obama’s shift to expand Social Security. Six years ago, I quit my job to become a full-time unpaid caregiver,” said Grassroots Ambassador Jeannie Brown of Bozeman, Montana. “Social Security will be my lifeline in 15 years when it is my time to retire and it needs to be expanded. I also know that this shift is a direct result of all the work that grassroots leaders, like myself, have done to educate elected officials to the need for this expansion because of our stories. Thank you President Obama in seeing the wisdom to make this happen.”
“When a person like me spends the day on his feet, working with his hands or back in a classroom or hospital, on a roof or knee-deep in cement, raising the age of retirement and/or cutting benefits is simply untenable,” said Grassroots Ambassador Kenn Bowen, a member of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement in Iowa City, Iowa. “If everyone pays their fair share, Social Security not only becomes solvent, it becomes stronger and can pay for more and better benefits for those who have given their lives in working service to their families and their country. President Obama is right when he says ‘we should strengthen Social Security by asking the wealthy to pay more.’ We should do this now, sooner not later for the benefit of all Americans. “
“President Obama’s new position to strengthen and expand Social Security will help a lot of people achieve financial stability. It’s high time the wealthy paid their fair share into Social Security. Social Security Disability Benefits were there for me when I was disabled, unable to work, and homeless. Without SSDI, I would still be homeless today,” said Carlos Cardenas, Vice President of the board of ONE Northside in Chicago.
“Virginia Organizing strongly supports ending the cap for Social Security deductions,” said Virginia Organizing leader Eunice Haigler. “As an organization, many of our members rely on Social Security to provide basic living expenses and we are encouraged by the President’s change in position. For me personally, an increase in Social Security means that I can feel my many years of work means something and will give me dignity. Virginia Organizing calls on U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine to support this proposal and move forward to protect and strengthen Social Security for all people, especially those of us who rely on this program for our survival.”
“We are encouraged that President Obama is joining with other lawmakers to expand Social Security and we will continue our efforts to protect this essential program so that everyone will benefit,” said Mary Lassen, CCC”s Managing Director.
Grassroots Ambassador David Voigt featured in Chicago Sun Times op-ed by Senator Warren
Grassroots Ambassador David Voigt is a leader with ONE Northside in Chicago. His story is a perfect example of the need to pass the SAVE Benefits Act (sponsored by Warren in the Senate and Duckworth in the House) that would provide a one-time Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) payment for all Social Security and Veterans beneficiaries in 2016. Read the full text below:
In 2009, a Chicagoan by the name of David Voigt lost his job. He applied for job after job. He even tried finding work in different fields and new careers — but, like so many others at the peak of the recession, he just couldn’t find work with the economy doing as poorly as it was.
After five years of struggling to get by and make ends meet, Mr. Voigt was on the brink of homelessness when he was able to officially retire and apply for Social Security at the age of 62. His Social Security checks were small, but they were big enough that he could keep his home and put food on his table.
His story isn’t unique. Americans from around the country have similar stories.
Since 1975, seniors, workers with disabilities, children and veterans who rely on Social Security payments to get by have been able to count on regular “cost of living adjustments,” or COLAs, to help the value of their modest benefits keep pace with rising costs for things like housing, food, insurance and medication.
But this year, for just the third time since 1975, Social Security beneficiaries didn’t get a COLA at all. Not a single penny. Their payments stayed exactly the same as they were last year — even though the cost of core goods and services is rising. Historically, COLAs — tied to an inadequate measure of the rate of inflation — are modest. In 2015, the average increase was just $22 per month more. But that extra money can be essential for people living on fixed incomes.
While that small sum of money may not sound like much, because the majority of Social Security beneficiaries depend on Social Security for most of their income, it can make a world of difference for some of our most vulnerable, financially stretched families, friends and neighbors. In Illinois alone, that includes 2.4 million residents – about 18 percent of our state. That includes 158,000 children, 876,000 women over the age of sixty-five, 292,000 disabled workers and 97,000 thousand veterans and their families’ members who could be forced into painful choices, such as forgoing gas to get to work or medication they need to live.
Mr. Voight’s health insurance premiums skyrocketed this year, and he’s struggling to pay all of his bills. He knows better than most how hard it is to get by without a COLA. It’s a tough year for him, but not for CEOs at the biggest companies in the country. Instead of an unexpected increase in health insurance cost, the average CEO at one of the top 350 American companies saw their $16 million salary grow by more than $600,000.
That huge salary bump is subsidized by taxpayers like us, like Mr. Voigt, and like you. And that’s a result of Congress’ choices. Current law lets corporations skirt the taxes they should pay — and that could be used to give our most vulnerable a modest COLA — by taking unlimited corporate deductions through a tax loophole for executive “performance pay.”
That loophole is in a law that was once described by a former Republican Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee Chairman as having “more holes than Swiss cheese,” and today it costs taxpayers about $5 billion dollars every year.
But we can change that law — and we can put the tax dollars saved to work helping Mr. Voigt and millions around the country like him. By eliminating the performance pay tax loophole, we could pay for a 3.9 percent or about $580, one-time benefit boost — the same percentage top CEOs saw their salaries grow in 2014 — for those who have been denied their COLA this year. Our SAVE Benefits Act would do just that. It would give 70 million Americans — seniors, veterans, children and more — a desperately-needed boost to their finances, and it wouldn’t cost taxpayers a single penny. Closing this loophole even leaves enough revenue left over to help extend the life of the Social Security trust fund.
Statewide, Illinois veterans, workers with disabilities, children and seniors would have an extra $1.4 billion to spend in their local communities on necessities like groceries, heating, and medical care. For roughly one million Americans, the SAVE Benefits Act would mean moving above the poverty line.
Corporations should be free to pay their CEOs whatever they choose, but taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to subsidize those salaries — especially not when it gets in the way of our most vulnerable citizens leading more secure lives. We hope our colleagues in Congress work with us to pass this fully-paid-for bill to finally close this tax loophole and help almost 70 million Americans living on fixed incomes.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren is a Democrat from Massachusetts. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat, represents Illinois 8th Congressional District.
Illinois groups call for People’s Agenda, protest Governor’s budget plan
On February 16, Jane Addams Senior Caucus (JASC) and ONE Northside joined a coalition of organizations in presenting the “People’s Agenda,” — an alternative to Governor Bruce Rauner’s “Turnaround Agenda” — which calls for higher tax rates on the wealthy and a new tax on stock trades, and would spend the money on programs like universal pre-K and combating homelessness . The day after presenting the alternative budget, Grassroots Ambassadors and other leaders from JASC and ONE Northside traveled from Chicago to Springfield as part of the Grassroots Collaborative on to protest another budget address by Gov. Rauner, calling for the state to pass a budget with new revenue so that all Illinoisans can live with dignity. The groups staged a “die-in” to show the casualties of the revenue crisis and again called for a fair tax on the wealthy and corporations in order to close the budget shortfall. Check out the Storify of their action.
Social Security Anniversary celebration in Chicago
Leaders from Jane Addams Senior Caucus and ONE Northside celebrated Social Security’s 80th birthday on August 14 by educating Chicagoans on the truth about Social Security. Then we took a poster with signatures supporting PROTECTING AND EXPANDING Social Security to our Senator.
Social Security has never missed a payment in 80 years! It will remain solvent for another 2 decades with no changes, and is well funded with $2.79 trillion in its Trust–a fund completely separate from general spending. Some leaders in Congress want to dismantle Social Security and change it into a private retirement system that will benefit corporate interest, not the people. We need to PROTECT AND EXPAND Social Security!
Act today! Senator Mark Kirk: 312-886-3506, and Senator Dick Durbin 312-353-4952.
Meeting with Congresswoman Schakowsky
On April 22, Grassroots Ambassadors from ONE Northside and Jane Addams Senior Caucus (JASC) met with Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) in Chicago about the caregiver bill and other aspects of retirement security.
Missouri and Illinois Ambassadors train in St. Louis
On March 29-30 in St. Louis, around 40 grassroots ambassadors from four organizations in Missouri and Illinois came together for two days to deepen their knowledge and skills around retirement security. Many participants commented on how much the group was racially diverse and intergenerational, with participants as young as 22 and as old as 90 (Al from Illinois, who said in the opening that “my friends tell me I don’t look a day over 89!”)
A new interactive training on the “3-legged stool of retirement” was led entirely by Ambassadors from GRO-Grassroots Organizing, while CCC staff used the opportunity to test our our new messaging memo — connecting retirement security and economic justice — during a spokesperson training with experienced ambassadors. On Sunday the group supported GRO and Metropolitan Congregations United (MCU) by collecting hundreds of signatures across the city for a statewide ballot initiative that would expand democracy by bringing early voting to Missouri.
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.
The 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. We 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.)
Throughout 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
Clergy, Community to Congress: Governing from Crisis to Crisis is Immoral, Raise Revenue
North side clergy convened on October 17 to call on Congress to raise more revenue and break the cycle of fabricated crises.
CHICAGO – On October 17, ten clergy members from Chicago’s north side stood with over a dozen seniors and community members to respond to the fiscal negotiations that were passed late Wednesday night. They called on Congress to stop governing from crisis to crisis and pass a budget that raises revenue and invests in America.
Father Dom Grassi of St. Gertrude Catholic Parish said, “We got through today, we avoided a default that would have sent shock waves throughout the global economy and we reopened the government. But we will be back in this position in three months unless Congress passes a budget that brings in new revenue. That is what they must do! It’s time for corporations and the wealthy to pay their fair share!”
Ann Marie Cunningham and Victor McWilliams from Jane Addams Senior Caucus discussed upcoming proposals to cut Social Security. Last week, a letter signed by 50 Congresspeople outlined the changes they would like to make to America’s greatest anti-poverty program. These changes include raising the retirement age and using a new formula to calculate cost of living adjustments. Ann Marie Cunningham said, “Every few months we talk about cutting Social Security; that is unfair to the seniors whose stability depends on it and who have paid into it their whole lives. Now is the time to strengthen the program not cut it. We must raise revenue so the so-called budget crisis is no longer an excuse to slash senior’s retirement security.” The speakers made reference to Senator Harkin’s Strengthening Social Security Act of 2013, which would extend the life of the Social Security trust fund and improve benefits for seniors.
“The fiscal deal just prolongs the ongoing debate in Congress about who pays in this country. It is time to take Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid off the chopping block; it is time to close off shore corporate tax loopholes, and it is time to pass a financial transactions tax on Wall Street,” said Reverend Rachelle Brown, pastor of A Church for Me: Metropolitan Community Church in Rogers Park. “This is what we need to rebuild our country, to get our neighbors back to work, and to live in a society that recognizes the dignity and humanity of the most vulnerable members of our community.” The pastor was referring to Senator Levin’s Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act, which would generate $220 billion over 10 years, and Representative Ellison’s Inclusive Prosperity Act, which would generate up to $350 billion per year by placing a small tax on Wall Street transactions.
“Today, we demand that Government end this cycle of governing from manufactured crisis to manufactured crisis. As the religious community, we call on Congress to act in the interest of the most vulnerable. Our scriptures tell us to care for the most vulnerable members of our community, not to use them as pawns in a political game,” said Pastor Fred Kinsey of Unity Lutheran Church in Edgewater.
The press conference was organized by ONE Northside and Jane Addams Senior Caucus. It is part of ongoing campaigns by economic and racial justice groups National People’s Action and Center for Community Change and their affiliates to stop brutal budget cuts harming America’s most vulnerable – from seniors to veterans and from low-income communities to people of color. The goals are to shift the debate from cuts to potential revenue and to enhance Social Security rather than cut benefits.
Grassroots Ambassadors from Four States Lead Human Chain with Progressive Caucus
Grassroots Ambassadors from Illinois, Minnesota, Ohio, Virginia and Washington DC joined leaders from the Campaign for Community Change, Social Security Works, the Alliance for Retired Americans at the Congressional “Human Chain” against the Chained CPI today. The event was sponsored by the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) and speakers rallied the crowd in opposition to all attempts to use a manufactured crisis to make cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
Representative Keith Ellison, co-chair of the CPC, led the charge: “Folks are scurrying around here, trying to figure out how to end the shutdown. And sometimes I’ve heard [Democrats] say ‘You know, maybe we should give them something… Some folks say ‘We’ll give you Chained-CPI.’”
“No way! No way!” Ellison shouted into the microphones. “Open up the government. Put a clean CR on. Stop this austerity….The way we hang together here is we make sure nobody, but nobody, gets sold out in exchange for Republicans doing their job, which is funding the government.” (See more from the Nation.)
Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland spoke strongly for seniors and retirement security: “They give their blood, their sweat, their tears, and they sacrifice and they expect certain things at the end of their retirement. One of the things that definitely expect is to live in dignity.”
Many other members of congress stood with community leaders against cuts to these critical programs. Representative Jan Schakowsky (IL) denounced the chained CPI, listing off all the ways it would hurt families, and later then linked arms with grassroots leaders as part of the human chain across the Capital plaza.
With the U.S. government shutdown, organizers worry that the President and some members of Congress may see this as an opportunity to press ahead with the chained CPI – a cut to Social Security benefits – in order bring about a deal that would re-open the government and avert a crisis around the debt ceiling. Grassroots leaders linked arms with nearly 20 Members of Congress to strongly denounce such a move (for more on what the CPI would do, go to this Social Security Works Fact sheet.)
Watch video of the event:
Illinois Grassroots Leaders with Rep. Jan Schakosky at the rally
Conyers- “If [Republicans] think they’re going to wear us out on this, they are dead wrong.”
Members of TakeAction Minnesota with Rep. Keith Ellison
“We are not going to balance the budget on the backs of seniors!”
Chicagoans ‘Out’ General Electric For Dodging Taxes, Demand Sen. Durbin Close Loopholes
Chicagoans from across the city rallied downtown Thursday afternoon to “out” General Electric as a corporate tax dodger and to call upon U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) to take charge and make corporations pay their fair share.
Chicago is one of 10 cities taking part in the National People’s Action campaign this week meant to shine a light on various corporate tax dodgers across the county. According to the protestors, GE received $8.4 billion in federal tax breaks between 2008 and 2010.
“Everyday people are suffering while corporate taxes are at historic lows, even though corporate profits are at an all time high,” said Toby Chow, a leader with IIRON.
The more than 100 protestors gathered outside GE’s Chicago office, at 500 W. Monroe St., while others went inside to deliver a cease and desist order directed to the company’s Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Immelt. The order calls on GE to stop dodging billions of dollars in taxes to “avoid supporting the common good.”
Here’s a look at some of the activists protesting inside and outside GE’s office:
The cease and desist order specifically calls on Immelt to resign his position on the corporate CEO lobby group Fix the Debt’s leadership council, pay $28 billion in back corporate taxes and publicly support a federal budget that does not include cuts to social safety net programs.
According to the protestors, GE has made $88 billion in profits over the past 11 years, yet has paid an income tax rate of just 2.4 percent. On top of that, GE dodged U.S. federal income taxes on $108 billion in accumulated offshore profits in 2012, which is a 5.8 percent increase from 2011, according to an analysis by the AFL-CIO as part of its Executive PayWatch webpage.
Meanwhile, the Fix the Debt group, of which Immelt is a member, is pushing for a territorial tax system, which would not tax corporations’ offshore profits at all. The group also wants cuts to programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, the protestors said.
“Jeff Immelt has a $60 million retirement account, but he wants working-class seniors to tighten their belts and deal with Social Security cuts,” Chow said. “It’s time for this to end.”
Kristina Tendilla, a leader at the Benton House community center in Bridgeport, said she has seen first hand how cuts to social safety net programs impact local community members.
“We see people who are sick and unable to get medicine they need,” she said. “We see people losing their jobs and their homes because of Wall Street. We see people who are hungry and no longer able to afford food for their families. These cuts are devastating for working families, children, immigrants and seniors.”
Melissa Rubio, 23, a recent DePaul University graduate, said the federal government “can’t invest in education for intelligent, yet poor students like me,” but it can continue to give handouts to corporations.
“I just graduated from DePaul, and I’m waiting tables, struggling to make ends meet,” she said outside GE’s office. “My adult life is just beginning, and I’m already underemployed and deeply in debt.”
While in college, Rubio said she had to take out more and more loans, while at the same time GE and Fix the Debt were lobbying for cuts to education “just so they can make an extra buck in tax breaks.”
“I have to ask Congress and Sen. Durbin: Why wont you stand up for me,” Rubio asked. “Why won’t you stand up for the thousands of students just like me?”
After the GE demonstration, the activists boarded buses and made their way to Federal Plaza to demand that Durbin represent everyday people, not tax-dodging corporations.
Activist Sharon Sanders, 73, took a train in from Northbrook in order to be part of the action.
“It doesn’t matter what issue you name, it’s all connected to the same thing: privatizing everything we have and taking it away from the middle class and the poor,” she said on the bus.
The various organizations part of Thursday’s action, including Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation (SOUL), ONE Northside and the People’s Lobby, among others, have reportedly asked Durbin several times to meet with them about solutions to the federal budget deficit. But thus far, they “have experienced only delaying tactics” from Durbin’s staff and have seen “no real effort … whatsoever” on the congressman’s part to meet with them, according to a letter they delivered to his office.
But time is ticking, the protestors stressed.
On September 30, the federal government will hit its deadline to pass a new budget for the 2014 fiscal year, which begins October 1.
With the deadline looming, protestors said Durbin should act now and lead Congress in closing tax loopholes to raise revenue and stave off cuts to social services. The activists also stressed that tax reform should not be “revenue neutral.”
“After years of economic depression and cruel budget cuts, it’s time to set a new course for this country,” Chow said.
That means reinvesting in the “common good” like education, health care, infrastructure and social safety net programs, he added.
“It is time to invest more in these programs, not less,” Chow said. “To pay for this, we need tax-dodging corporations to pay their fair share.”