Without legislation, Social Security recipients & veterans face no cost-of-living increase in 2016

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WASHINGTON – Today, in light of last month’s announcement that there will not be a cost-of-living adjustment in 2016, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn) spoke on the floor of the U.S. Senate urging his colleagues to pass the Seniors and Veterans Emergency (SAVE) Benefits Act to boost Social Security for seniors, veterans, and disabled Americans. Murphy emphasized that – despite a projected increase in the cost of consumer goods over the next year – millions of veterans, seniors, and disabled Americans will not get a raise while America’s wealthiest CEOs see their pay going up.

The SAVE Benefits Act would give about 70 million seniors, veterans, people with disabilities, and others a one-time emergency payment equal to 3.9 percent of the average annual Social Security benefit, about $581 – the same percentage raise that CEOs at the top 350 firms received last year. This $581 increase could cover almost three months of groceries for seniors or a year’s worth of out-of-pocket costs on critical prescription drugs for the average Medicare beneficiary. The bill would lift more than 1 million Americans out of poverty. The cost of this emergency payment would be covered by closing a tax loophole allowing corporations to write off executive bonuses as a business expense for “performance pay.”

Murphy introduced the SAVE Benefits Act earlier today with U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawai’i), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.). 

The full text of Senator Murphy’s remarks is below:

Thank you very much to the Senator from Massachusetts. You know, we spend a lot of time here on the floor of the Senate talking about how our states are different. That happens in the House of Representatives where I served as well, but there is one thing that certainly unites all of our states, and frankly, one thing that unites all of the front desks of our senate offices. And that is this: we have been all flooded with phone calls from the thousands upon thousands of constituents in each one of our districts who are furious that they are going to get no increase in social security at the beginning of next year. Despite the fact that prices for virtually everything that fixed income seniors are paying for are going up, they're getting absolutely nothing to try to compensate them for those costs of living increases.

We're hearing from people like Kevin in Bridgeport who said,

“Dear Senator Murphy, I’m a lifelong resident of Bridgeport. I'm 63 years old. I'm living on SSDI due to a rare disease of the spinal cord. Since my only source of income is SSDI, I am concerned about the recent announcement that there is going to be no COLA increase for 2016. If there is anything you can do to reverse this decision, millions of Americans like me will be greatly helped and greatly appreciative.”

Or Fred from Wolcott, who said,

“I understand the lower gas prices have kept the C.P.I. lower, with the result being no social security increase for 2016, but many of us do not drive or drive a limited amount, and the lower gas prices do not place additional funds in our pocket. Meanwhile, the cost of beef, chicken, eggs and milk – the things we live on – have risen and have reduced our purchasing power. Many of us have no other form of income.”

Or Adeline in New Fairfield, Connecticut, who said,

“My husband and I are very concerned that we will not receive a cost-of-living increase in our check. Please let this be the last time. With all the medical deductibles, food, clothing, taxes all going up, it just gets discouraging. We are up in age, not the best of health. Because of that, we are unable to get a job. Social security is what we depend on.”

These stories can be multiplied millions of times over in all of our districts. What are we going to do about it? Are we going to just sit here, as we do with issue after issue, and offer no response to the millions of our constituents who are telling us that they're going to have trouble making ends meet? Or are we going to make a choice – are we going to make a choice to end an unjustifiable loophole that allows corporations to hand over millions of dollars to their CEOs virtually tax free, or are we going to invest in the millions of seniors and disabled across this country who are going to have a hard time living, making ends meet if we don't make the change involved in the piece of legislation that we're announcing today.

The SAVE Benefits Act is going to save the lives of seniors who, without a cost-of-living increase, are going to have trouble affording medication and food. And it really comes at no cost to the corporations that are right now receiving an unjustifiable tax benefit – one that Congress really never intended.

Congress passed, and has accepted as part of our tax law for 20 years, this provision that doesn't allow companies to take a tax benefit for salaries over a million dollars. Not surprising that companies found a way around that provision because it exempted performance-based pay. So bonuses and stock options could be handed out without full tax benefit, and that became the standard for compensation packages. All of a sudden, it wasn't about salary any longer, and it became about this performance-based pay. And so you live in a world today in which there is this perverse system. The more corporations pay their CEOs, the lower their tax bill.

It's not going to hurt corporations to simply have to pay taxes on the bonuses above a million dollars that they send to their CEOs and big executives. They're going to continue paying their CEOS a lot of money. A lot of them live in Connecticut – I don't have any fear that there is going to be a rapid diminution in the amount of money that CEOs are making, but at least those companies will pay taxes on those exorbitant salaries. We'll be able to use that money to make sure that their customers – the people that are buying the goods that these big companies make – actually have the purchasing power with which to enter and be active in the economy.

And I guess that's the piece of economics that I’ll end on here. By putting $50 more a month into the hands of frail, poor seniors and disabled, you are providing an enormous economic benefit to the economy because all of that money is going to go into the economy. Let me tell you what a senior living at, or below, the poverty line is going to do at $50 a month. They're going to put it into food. They're going to put it into medicine. They're going to put it into main street businesses.

The fact is when you instead decide to subsidize salaries of above a million dollars, that money isn't going back into the main street economy. Maybe a portion of it is, but a lot of it is ending up just in giant accrued pensions and savings accounts, or in offshore investments – not in main street economy. So this is not just the right thing to do for these seniors that are crying out to every single one of our offices to do something about this unjustifiable lack of a COLA, but it's the right thing to do for the economy at-large because the money is going to find its way into all sorts of crevices and corners of this economy that badly need that kind of infusion.

So I thank Senator Warren for introducing this legislation. I just wanted to come down to the floor to lend my voice to it and for it on behalf of the hundreds and hundreds of seniors in Connecticut that are contacting and calling our office, asking for the senate to do something. With that, let me yield to my colleague and friend from Connecticut, Senator Blumenthal.