Let's Expand Social Security on its Birthday

Co-authored by U.S. Senator Brian Schatz, Nancy Altman, President of Social Security Works and Chair of the Strengthen Social Security Coalition, and Richard Fiesta, Executive Director of the Alliance for Retired Americans

Eighty years ago, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law, creating a national plan to provide economic security for American workers. Since then, Social Security has proven to be the most successful anti-poverty program in our history. Each year, Social Security lifts more than 20 million Americans - including a million children - out of poverty.

Nowhere is Social Security's importance more evident than in Hawaii. More than 200,000 people - more than one in six - receive Social Security benefits. And for more than one in four Hawaii seniors, Social Security is their only source of income.

A generation ago, American workers were able to draw from their savings, employer pensions, and Social Security benefits in retirement. Today, most working households have little or no retirement assets at all and many rely entirely on Social Security. And while employer-provided pensions are becoming a thing of the past, Social Security has become the one pillar of our retirement system that continues to work well. It is a universal, guaranteed source of income that workers earn and depend on when they retire. But it is simply not enough.

Given these facts, we need a commonsense solution to strengthen and expand Social Security. The Safeguarding American Families and Expanding Social Security Act will do just that. First, the bill changes the benefit formula to increase benefits by about $65 per month. Second, it changes the way annual cost of living adjustments are calculated so that they better reflect the real costs that seniors face today. Third, it removes the wage cap on earnings - currently $118,500 - so that payroll taxes apply fairly to every dollar of wages earned, ensuring that everyone contributes their fair share.

This proposal puts Social Security on sound long-term footing by reinvesting two-thirds of its revenue into the trust fund and extending full solvency through 2048. And it helps hardworking Americans by using one-third of the revenue to increase benefits for those who need it most.

Every family has a Social Security story - whether it's a grandmother who relies on the program's benefits to pay for groceries, a father who suffered a debilitating injury after decades of hard work and receives much needed Social Security disability benefits, or a widowed mother who relies on Social Security survivors' benefits to bring up her children. It is something families have come to rely on and the reason why we must work to safeguard it.

Following the signing of the Social Security Act 80 years ago, President Roosevelt described Social Security as a "measure of protection to the average citizen and to his family against the loss of a job and against poverty-ridden old age." Since then, every generation has worked to strengthen and expand the program to keep that promise. Now it is our turn to do the same.