Filipinos Want Social Security and Medicare Protected, Republicans and Democrats Share Opposing Plans on How to Protect Them

Support for Social Security was high across the political spectrum: 93% of Republicans, 99% of Democrats and 92% of independents see Social Security as an important government program.

by Edwin Quinabo

Social Security and Medicare are on the ballot in November 2024 as political parties share opposing views on both entitlement programs.

The White House and entitlements advocates reiterate that voting matters, highlighting Biden’s promise in 2020 to ease drug costs and his delivery of it in the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act after his election in August 2022. That landmark Act allowed for cheaper medicine through the federal government’s new power to negotiate prices with drugmakers for Medicare.

President Joe Biden wants voters to know cuts to Social Security will not happen on his “watch” — hoping to elevate his campaign and corner a large sector of voting seniors and near-retirees.

While former President Donald Trump rejects the idea of changing Social Security this election cycle, Trump said that reining in spending on the program could be one way to improve the government’s budget.  

Social Security and Medicare advocates said while Trump insists on not touching these highly popular entitlement programs, his past budget proposals suggest another thing. in 2020 Trump proposed a budget as president that included an estimated $71 billion in cuts to Social Security. He also proposed during the COVID-19 pandemic a payroll tax cut aimed at putting more money into workers’ paychecks, a proposal experts say would reduce the tax income Social Security and Medicare rely on.

“Make no mistake: Social Security is on the ballot in November,” said Nancy Altman, president of Social Security Works, an advocacy group for expanding the program.

Unlike Trump’s mixed messaging on the two entitlement programs, his political party last month wasn’t coy about possible changes. The Republican Study Committee, a large group of conservative House Republicans, released a 2025 budget proposal including significant reforms for Social Security and Medicare.

Rep. John Larson, D-Conn, ranking member of the House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee, suggested Republicans are avoiding some specifics to their plan “because they know these cuts are unpopular with the American people.

Overwhelming majority support Social Security and Medicare
According to an AARP survey of 1,441 people ages 18 and older taken last year, there was a near-universal support for Social Security: 96% of those polled regardless of political affiliation said Social Security was either the most important government program or an important one compared with other government programs.

Support for Social Security was high across the political spectrum: 93% of Republicans, 99% of Democrats and 92% of independents see Social Security as an important government program.

“It’s crystal clear that Americans of all generations value the economic stability Social Security has offered,” said Nancy LeaMond, AARP executive vice president and chief advocacy and engagement officer.

The same poll found that since COVID-19, economic instability has boosted the importance of Social Security with 56% saying Social Security is more important now than it was before the pandemic.

LeaMond said, “With so many Americans struggling to afford health care and other basic needs, Social Security is more important than ever — and AARP will never stop fighting to strengthen Social Security and make sure hard-working Americans get the benefits they’ve earned.”

Sixty-five percent of respondents said they wish Social Security payments were larger and believed it is too low. Just 3% thought it is too high.

The average Social Security retirement payment is about $1,503 per month.

More than 69 million people — almost 9 out of 10 of those 65 and older – get Social Security benefits, according to the Social Security Administration (SSA).  The Social Security Act was signed into law on August 14, 1935.

According to a recent YouGov survey, 84% of Americans who currently have Medicare benefits have a positive view of it. Fifty-three percent of Americans say it deserves a greater allocation of funds, and 23% want its finances to remain stable. Another 13% want its funding reduced (8%) or cut entirely (5%).

Recent data from the Economist/YouGov poll shows that a proposal being considered by House Republicans to cut funding for Social Security and Medicare programs would not be supported by majorities of Americans nor Republicans. 

Amy Cachola, 63, Pearl City, signed up to receive early Social Security benefits last year. She retired as an accounting clerk at the age of 47 to take care of her ailing father for nine years. She hasn’t returned to the workforce after his passing because she’s been caring for her grandchildren during the daytime.

Cachola has been working since the age of 18 and receives $950 per month in Social Security benefits. She opted for early partial benefits because she said, “You never know when your time is up.”

“I could have waited until 67 to get the full Social Security benefits. But when I received notice from SSA to decide, I opted to get the partial benefits because my father passed away at 61 and he never got a chance to collect the benefits that he worked so hard for, putting into the system all his working life,” said Cachola. “I didn’t want to end up that way.”

“Now I am waiting to qualify for Medicare when I turn 65,” she said.

Cachola receives a nominal income for babysitting her grandchildren. Her husband, 71, receives his Social Security and works part-time.  He worked full-time until he qualified for full Social Security benefits and received $2,700 per month.

“We rely on our Social Security benefits as our primary income, and it helps us to remain independent from our children. It also helps with our expenses that one of our adult sons lives with us and pays rent,” Cachola explained.

She said, “Without Social Security, we would not have financial security and could not enjoy our part-time working status. We would not have been able to retire at all. We all know how expensive it is in Hawaii. My husband receives Medicare, but his former company has no retirement benefits. So he has a basic plan, not Medicare Advantage. I am currently paying for health insurance which is expensive.”

Cachola said in her middle age, Social Security and Medicare were not top priorities when it came to voting. But now that she and her husband are seniors, Social Security and Medicare are their top priority in choosing a candidate.

“Definitely, we both will be voting for the Democratic party for our congressional representatives and president because we don’t trust Republicans on this issue. I don’t believe Trump when he says he will not make cuts to these entitlement programs. In the past under President George W. Bush, he and Republicans tried to privatize Social Security. We don’t want changes. We deserve every cent of these entitlements because we worked hard and paid into the system,” said Cachola.

According to the same AARP survey, 89% say it would be unfair to people who are retired or near retirement to make major changes to Social Security that would affect them. Twenty-nine percent said they do not trust the government to keep its promises of guarding Social Security and Medicare.

Seniors who are economically insecure
The U.S. Census Bureau 2022 report says More than 17 million older adults age 65+ are economically insecure, with incomes below 200% of the federal poverty level. 

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), Social Security benefits lift 16.1 million older adults above the Federal Poverty Level (FPL). The current FPL is $29,160 per year for a single person in 2023. But according to the Elder Index – a more accurate measure of economic well-being economists say – millions more older adults are struggling to meet their monthly expenses, even though they’re not considered “poor” because they live above the FPL.

The CBPP says those below the FPL struggle with rising housing and health care bills, inadequate nutrition, lack of access to transportation, diminished savings, and job loss. For older adults over the FPL, the CBPP says many of them are one major adverse life event away that could change their financial security.

The U.S. Census Bureau says nearly half of adults aged 55-66 have no personal retirement savings. The Congressional Research Service on Household Debt Among Older Americans shows that 61% of households headed by an individual age 65 or older are in debt. The median debt for senior-led households is $31,050.

Cathola said she and her husband do not receive any government assistance besides Social Security and Medicare. “I wouldn’t say we are living in poverty, but I am certain there are many others in Hawaii our age who are. But without Social Security, we certainly would be in that poverty threshold because I estimate our Social Security to be more than half of our monthly income.”

According to SSA, among Social Security beneficiaries age 65+, Social Security represents 50% or more of their income for 37% of men and 42% of women.

Senior Poverty on the Rise
In yet another metric, the supplemental poverty measure which economists have found to be a more accurate reflection of income and spending than the official FPL, the proportion of people over age 65 living in poverty climbed to 14.4% in 2023, up from 9.5% in 2020. Millions more Americans have fallen into poverty within this period since COVID-19.

The supplemental measure defined poverty last year as an annual income below $15,998 for a single adult household ($22,624 for a two-adult household).

Teresa Ghilarducci, an economist at the New School for Social Research, said her studies show a lot of seniors live close to the poverty line. “So, it doesn’t take much to tip them over into poverty,” she said. She adds that the pandemic forced many older workers into early retirement, and their companies pushed them out of the workforce.

Social Security has cost-of-living increases based on inflation, but there tends to be a lag on these adjustments, experts say. So even if senior poverty rates were to stabilize or decline next year, eased by higher benefits, the poverty figures would remain stubbornly high compared to those in other industrialized nations with stronger public safety nets.

Among the G7 nations – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, and the U.S. — the U.S. has the highest elder poverty rate, two times more than all other G7 nations.

Ghilarducci said the Mercer/CFA Institute Global Pension Index found the U.S. system is marred by low benefits, conflicts of interest, and anemic financing for entitlement programs, compared to other wealthy countries, which is why “elderly poverty is the highest among the G7 nations.”

Comparing proposals for the upcoming election
Both Social Security and Medicare face looming insolvency dates as the number of seniors who rely on these programs is projected to grow. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has estimated that the Social Security trust fund may run out in the next decade.

Medicare’s hospital insurance trust fund, which covers Medicare Part A, may face insolvency in 2033. The Congressional Budget Office projects that public debt could go up from 97% in 2023 to 166% by 2054, which makes funding for the two entitlement programs more difficult.

Both Republicans and Democrats agree that the current course of Social Security and Medicare is not sustainable, and changes must be implemented. But their parties’ approaches to these changes are at odds.

Emerson Sprick, associate director of economic policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center, compares the two parties’ overarching philosophies on entitlement programs. “On the right, there is a line in the sand against tax increases. And on the left, there’s this idea that we’re going to address this problem and not touch benefits,” he said.

REPUBLICAN PLAN. House Republicans’ plan calls for 1) raising the Social Security retirement age; 2) reducing full retirement age benefits for high-income earners; 3) limiting and phasing out “auxiliary benefits” for those beneficiaries’ spouses and dependents; and 4) restructuring Medicare premium support subsidies for either traditional Medicare or private Medicare Advantage plans.

Their budget did not specify the income thresholds to which those changes would apply. It did not specify a new higher retirement age or when phasing out of “auxiliary benefits” would occur. It also did not specify how premium support subsidies would change.

The reforms would be gradually phased in and “affect no senior in or near retirement,” according to the plan. Ultimately, the goal for the changes is to make Social Security’s retirement trust fund “sustainably solvent.”

The Republicans’ budget proposal calls their plan “modest adjustments,” but critics disagree saying their plans lack specifics that could translate into broad reforms affecting millions of seniors.

Sprick said, “any kind of durable policy with a realistic chance of getting through Congress is going to have to include aspects from both sides.” Changes would require bipartisan agreement.

Domi Viernes, Ewa Beach, 83, retired at age 44 from the U.S. Navy’s food service. He said “entitlements to Social Security and Medicare need to be protected. Seniors have worked so hard and rely on them during their vulnerable aging years.

“I oppose raising the retirement age. Some people look forward to this milestone in their lives. For those in hard labor jobs, it takes a greater toll on the body and health than some who work in white-collar jobs. I didn’t mind my second job after the Navy, and I am blessed to still have good health. People are living longer after retirement but that doesn’t mean the government should take away the motivation to get the full benefits that we all worked so hard for,” he said.  He adds that Medicare premiums also shouldn’t be raised.

Like most seniors receiving Social Security and Medicare benefits, Viernes said he and his wife would be “somewhat affected, our livelihood, as we’d be forced to dip into our savings.”

His advice to seniors and near seniors, ““Enjoy your earnings but be smart with your money, save some, and plan for your golden years.” He said having grown up in poverty in the Philippines, he knew to work very hard and save for his family and their future.

DEMOCRATIC PLAN. Biden’s proposed budget opposes benefit cuts and efforts to privatize Social Security. “Both are off the table,” he said.

To help shore up the entitlement programs’ shortfall, Biden’s budget calls for the highest-income Americans to pay their fair share in taxes.

But he emphasizes, “Under my plan, nobody earning less than $400,000 will pay an additional penny in federal taxes,” Biden said during his recent State of the Union address. His plan includes raising the Medicare tax rate on both earned and unearned income from 3.8% to 5% for those earning more than $400,000. He also wants to improve Social Security and Supplemental Security income benefits for retirees and individuals with disabilities who “face the greatest challenges making ends meet.”

Like Republicans’ plan lacking specifics, critics also point out Biden’s budget stops short of specifying how the proposed combination of tax increases for those making above $400,000 annually and increasing benefits would restore Social Security’s solvency.

White House spokesperson Robyn Patterson said, “We could extend the life of Medicare’s Trust Fund permanently — without cutting benefits — if Congressional Republicans would get on board with the President’s historic budget proposal to raise taxes on the wealthy.”

Democrats have complained the Republican budget proposal would result in $1.5 trillion in benefit cuts.

Republicans criticize Biden’s plan, saying increased taxes on the wealthy would not be enough and lead to cutting benefits of Medicare by 23% before the projected depletion date of 2033.

Recommendations to keep seniors from falling into poverty
Economists and senior advocates emphasize federal benefits go a long way toward reducing poverty. They say some suggestions that would help include: 1) raising the minimum Social Security benefit; 2) increasing Social Security payments after people reach age 85, when health care costs typically increase; and 3) improving S.S.I. benefits for older adults and people with disabilities who lack the work history to qualify for Social Security. All of these steps would require congressional action, senior advocates say.

Max Richtman, president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, said Social Security needs adequate funding. “The chronically underfunded agency has been struggling to provide proper customer service — including field office closures, long wait times on SSA’s 1-800 phone line, and excessive delays in disability insurance hearings,” he said.

Biden said he sides with the working people who built this country. “If anyone tries to cut Social Security or Medicare or raise the retirement age again, I will stop them.”

Trump said in a CNBC interview last month, “There is a lot you can do in terms of entitlements, in terms of cutting. And in terms of, also, the theft and the bad management of entitlements — tremendous bad management of entitlements — there’s tremendous amounts of things and numbers of things you can do.” That said, he reiterated that “you don’t have to touch Social Security,” suggesting other changes could come before cuts that would hurt senior citizens.

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