Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Congress must fix problems with VA, Social Security

Two groups of Americans that deserve and need the government’s attention are veterans, who have put their lives and their well-being on the line to defend their country, and the retirees who had some of their earnings taken through payroll deductions to provide for their future when they cannot or no longer work to support themselves.

Instead, what exists is a system of health care for veterans that is largely an embarrassing failure, that far too often sees veterans treated like second-class citizens, and a Social Security fund that is running out of money and will be unable to continue paying earned benefits at the current level.

Social Security is a government program whose purpose is to provide monthly income to Americans when they retire, cannot work, or reach a certain age by taxing the earnings of workers that are matched by their employers. Those taxes go into trust funds to provide benefits, and are invested to provide income that builds the trust funds.

The idea was to have a “pay as you go” system funded by workers of all ages and their employers that would produce more income than required to pay the benefits to the relatively few people who were receiving them. Together with the investment income, the system would be able to provide support payments for those collecting their earned rewards well into the future.

We now hear that Social Security taxes no longer produce enough money to cover benefit payments, and for the first time since 1982 the funds will have to be invaded in order to pay recipients their monthly allotment. The ratio of workers to retirees has fallen substantially in recent years, however. In 2000, for each retiree there were four workers. Last year that changed to 2.8 workers per retiree, and it is projected to fall further still, to 2.2 workers per retiree in 2035.

Changing circumstances cause the current level of taxes coming into the system to be insufficient to meet the future demand for payments to retirees. These include lackluster economic growth during the Obama years, inflation that raises the cost of living, as well as an aging population that increases the number of active recipients receiving benefits.

Social Security trustees predict that the fund paying disability benefits will run dry in 2032, and the fund paying retirement benefits will run dry in 2034. At that point, recipients could still receive payments from current tax receipts, but they would receive only 79 percent of the earned benefits they had been receiving.

Relative to the veterans situation, President Donald Trump signed legislation recently that will dramatically expand a program for veterans that lets them seek care from private doctors if they want to bypass the troubled VA system that frequently places them on waiting lists for weeks or months, and is known to sometimes provide less than acceptable care. The Veterans Choice Improvement Act removes barriers that Congress placed on a previous "choice" initiative, eliminating an expiration date that would have shut that program down in August.

Obviously, for those veterans who have substandard experiences from the Veterans Administration’s healthcare program, this will certainly give them an opportunity to get much better care.

This is a wonderful blessing for our deserving veterans, but what about those elderly retirees who had money taken from them and their employers for their future financial security, that now is in jeopardy because of action by the same government who required them to pay into the system?

Allen W. Smith, Ph.D., who spent 30 years as a professor of economics at Eastern Illinois University, quoted some members of Congress in a 2014 column on his Website about government shenanigans that depleted the trust funds. Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coeburn said, on the Senate floor in 2011, “The money’s gone.” And then-House Speaker John Boehner, R-OH, told ABC’s This Week, “It’s not like there’s money in Social Security or Medicare. The government, over the past 30 years, has spent it all.”

So, the money taxed from workers and employers to fund payments to retirees is gone, thanks to our elected representatives in Congress, and the system can only continue paying benefits if payments are substantially reduced, or the government borrows money for that purpose.

That, of course, is not acceptable. Congress must now get off its collective backside and find $2.7 trillion to replace the misappropriated funds and restore Social Security’s financial stability. That will require making some difficult decisions about the funding of government programs.

Government has been off the rails for decades, pouring money into programs that are outside the parameters set forth by the U.S. Constitution.

A familiar Facebook meme says something to the effect of: “How is it that Social Security/Medicare is going broke, but welfare isn’t?”

Even if a welfare system that gives tax money to Americans is constitutional, it’s not okay to give money to those that deliberately aren’t trying to support themselves. Giving money to other countries while our own retired constituents can’t even collect money that they paid into the system is wrong at the highest levels.

This has gone on far too long. Congress needs to fix it.

No comments: