Social workers urged to defend program as it faces federal cuts
Social workers and Social Security have a rich history together, explains NASW-New Hampshire Executive Director Stephen Gorin, and he urges social workers to continue this history by advocating for the Social Security program, which is facing possible government cutbacks.
“It’s important to keep in mind that social workers were at the forefront in helping create Social Security,” he said.
Social work pioneer Frances Perkins, the first female Cabinet member as Secretary of Labor in President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration, served as chairwoman of the Committee on Economic Security, the stepping stone to the Social Security Act of 1935.
Other social work pioneers — Grace Abbot, Eveline Burns, Wilbur J. Cohen and Harry Lloyd Hopkins — played leading roles in developing the program, which celebrated its 78th birthday last year.
But the struggle to keep Social Security funded for future generations remains in jeopardy.
“Here we are in 2013 and Social Security continues to be under attack,” said Gorin, who is a professor in the social work department at Plymouth State University.
While some lawmakers seek to remove or underfund Social Security, social workers need to defend its livelihood, Gorin said. It is an essential program, not only for social work clients but for social workers themselves and their loved ones, he said.
Gorin has advocated for the continued support of Social Security by appearing for interviews and debates on the topic on New Hampshire Public Radio. He has written and co-written op-ed columns on the subject and has been active as a guest speaker.
Gorin has also worked for several years with Eric Kingson, a professor of social work at Syracuse University, on issues related to Social Security. Kingson is the co-chairman of Strengthen Social Security, a coalition NASW belongs to that advocates preserving and increasing Social Security benefits.
“The message is strengthen the program don’t cut it,” Kingson said. “This program is so fundamental to our society – you can’t do any other way.”
U.S. lawmakers, including the Obama administration, are seeking ways to reduce the nation’s budget deficit and Social Security is one of the federal programs up for debate, Kingson said.
“We’ve been busy beating back, defending the system,” he said. Nationwide, nearly one in five Americans received Social Security benefits in 2012, providing $774.6 billion in benefits to nearly 57 million beneficiaries.
He also stressed that Social Security is not just a retirement program for older adults. More than 17 million people under age 65 received Social Security benefits in 2012—nearly one-third of all beneficiaries.
Social workers need to contact their lawmakers in Congress and send the message that Social Security should be expanded instead of cut back, Kingson said.
He also encourages social workers to urge lawmaker support of the Strengthening Social Security Act (S. 567; HR 3118), which, among its provisions, calls for millionaires and billionaires to pay the same rate as other Americans by gradually eliminating the Social Security tax cap.
Social Security is required to project its finances 75 years into the future. At its current levels, Social Security can pay benefits in full for the next 20 years. After that, if Congress were not to act, it could still pay 77 cents on every dollar of earned benefits, according to information from the Strengthen Social Security coalition.
Thomas N. Bethell, a senior fellow at the National Academy of Social Insurance, said NASI members and staff work to continually improve the nation’s great social insurance programs — including Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation. It also is a resource for the public, lawmakers, academics, the media and professionals, such as social workers, who are involved in administering or interacting with social insurance programs.
“For most wage-earners, Social Security is the only source of retirement income that lasts for life and maintains its value, thanks to annual cost-of-living adjustments,” Bethell said. “Although monthly benefits are modest — averaging about $1,250 – they are the main source of retirement income for most beneficiaries, and provide 90 percent or more of the income for about a third of all beneficiaries. For millions of Americans, their monthly benefit check is the only thing standing between them and living out their old age in poverty.”
NASI recently conducted a public opinion survey that went beyond conventional polling by asking participants to choose a package of changes to Social Security that would close the long-term funding gap by raising revenues, cutting benefits, or some combination of both, in much the way lawmakers would do.
Bethell said a majority of respondents — regardless of age, ethnicity or political affiliation — opted to raise revenues, even if it meant they would be paying more, because they support Social Security.
“That’s a powerful affirmation of Social Security’s importance, and one which social workers can confirm,” he said. “There’s much more information on the survey, and on Social Security in general, on our website.”
Resources for supporting Social Security
The coalition Strengthen Social Work has a Social Social Security Works for the United States 2016 available to download for free.
In addition to providing information about the program’s history, character and vitality, as well as real-life stories, each report includes statistics about the number of people who receive benefits, the types of benefits they receive and the total amount of funds flowing into every state, its congressional districts and counties.
NASW also supports the Expand Social Security campaign, which urges citizens to sign a petition to expand the program at BoldProgressives.org