Dallas and Austin members of the Alliance for Retired Americans attended Waco’s Veterans Day parade to spread the word that U.S. Rep. Bill Flores, R-Bryan, is supporting legislative changes that they said could threaten veterans’ and seniors’ Social Security benefits.
Austin and Dallas are not included in the 17th district, which Flores represents, but ARA field organizer Judy Bryant said Flores was the only Texas congressman who signed a letter written by Wisconsin Rep. Reid Ribble asking to use the time before the debt ceiling deadline in January to begin a Social Security overhaul.
“Virtually everyone recognizes that our entitlement programs are the primary, long-term drivers of our debt,” the letter states. “Social Security provides us with the best opportunity to begin solving our nation’s significant budget imbalances in an era of divided government.”
Flores said some of the suggested changes — contained in another letter unseen by the congressman — include a new cost-of-living calculation and a raise in the retirement age.
Branches of the ARA have been protesting across the nation for the past week against the 50 Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives who signed the letter, Bryant said.
The Waco members of the ARA participated in the parade.
The protesters focused largely on the effects of the cost-of-living adjustment by passing out leaflets and information about the proposed reduction in benefits.
The proposed adjustment could lower monthly stipends for retirees ages 75 and older by $41.08. By age 85, stipends would decrease by $71.58 per month and still further at 95 by $101.95, according to their materials, which cite the Social Security Administration’s 2013 Annual Statistical Supplement.
The average retiree receives $1,269 per month, and there are about 37 million retired workers in America, bringing the Social Security payout to $47.4 billion per month, according to the Social Security website. Disabled, dependents and survivors receive about $19 billion per month.
The amount of benefits expected to be given in 2013 totals $816 billion, the website says.
Bryant said the ARA is advocating for the removal of the current wage cap, which limits Social Security contributions on earnings up to $113,000. Alliance members think if the earnings cap is removed, it would replenish the depleted stores in the Social Security fund.
Bryant said it is not the fault of those who contributed that the system is broken.
“Entitlement isn’t a dirty word,” Bryant said. “People aren’t asking for something they haven’t paid into.”
Romeo Gutierrez, an ARA member and Vietnam War veteran, drove from Dallas because he is fighting to keep his main source of income.
“We’ve worked long and hard for our retirement and it’s only fair we get to keep what rightfully belongs to us,” Gutierrez said.
Flores said the suggested alterations to the program won’t affect the majority of current retirees.
The congressman said he supports the ideals in the letter because in five years the Social Security tax could more than double to pay out its obligations.
“The future liabilities of the Social Security trust fund far outweigh the future income streams,” Flores said. “What they’re not paying attention to are the decades worth of obligations that are owed out of that trust fund, which are going to be a giant tax on the younger generations if we don’t fix it today. If you look at Social Security as if it were a retirement plan, it owes $10 to $12 trillion more than it has in assets.”
But Flores said if Congress were to make the necessary changes, the fund could be restored and last another 75 years.
“If we’re really serious about fixing the fiscal trajectory of the country, we need to look at all of (the entitlements),” Flores said. “We need to look at everything that is causing it to be fiscally unsound, and Social Security is one of those issues.”