The US lacks the strong leadership it needs to both contain the spread of the novel coronavirus and to protect Americans from economic ruin. On Sunday evening, Donald Trump insisted at a Fox News townhall that he will block any new Congressional stimulus packages to address the coronavirus pandemic unless it also includes cuts to Social Security and Medicare payroll contributions. Of course, cuts to Social Security and Medicare could endanger the lives of millions of Americans.
Cuts to Social Security and Medicare are wildly unpopular, garnering almost no public support. Republicans and Democrats alike overwhelmingly support maintaining or increasing spending on Medicare and Social Security. Payroll contributions put money into their Trust Funds. As it is, these Trust Funds would benefit from an injection of money. With so many people out of work, far less money is going into them right now.
In the last month, more than 30 million Americans have lost their jobs. More than 10 million of them have lost their health insurance. They have little if any income. But they need to pay their mortgages and rent, their electric, phone and internet bills. They also need to eat.
Without a paycheck, younger Americans are at serious risk. Older Americans are at high risk of dying from Covid-19. Many hospitals are losing enormous amounts of money and might not survive. They all need government help.
But, President Trump is threatening to withhold this critical help unless Congress also cuts the payroll tax. In his words, “We’re not doing anything without a payroll tax cut.” Of course, a payroll tax cut is not what we need. The payroll tax cut helps wealthy people, working people with incomes over $75,000 a lot more than it helps low-income people.
A person earning $75,000 a year would save $1,500 over the course of the year. Someone earning $45,000 a year would save $900. A minimum wage worker would save just $302. And, of course, anyone who has been laid off would save nothing.
Americans and hospitals need money now. And, low-income workers need more help and should get more help than wealthy Americans. If the goal is to help America and its residents, the cut in payroll contributions makes no sense and depletes the Social Security Trust Funds.
President’s Trump goal appears to be to cripple Social Security. In fact, he has said he wants to cut Social Security if he is re-elected.
As Nancy Altman, President of Social Security Works explains, to help the country out of its economic and health crisis, Congress should be allocating more emergency funds to people. It should be increasing Social Security benefits and Medicare should be covering the costs of health care that are not covered by insurance and for the uninsured.
Most older adults rely on Social Security to survive–to pay for their basic needs. It keeps millions of older adults from impoverishment. President Trump’s proposal should be seen for what it is: a death sentence for many older adults, if not today, down the road.
It’s up to Congress to push back against President Trump and do right by older adults and the country and not cut Social Security or Medicare payroll contributions. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, for her part, says “No way.”
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