Social Security Turns 79

BURLINGTON, Vt., Aug. 13 – Marking Thursday’s 79th anniversary of Social Security, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) called today for expanding “the most successful federal program in modern American history.”

The law creating the retirement program was signed on Aug. 14, 1935 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Vermont has a special place in the history of Social Security. The first monthly retirement check, for $22.54, was issued in 1940 to Ida May Fuller of Ludlow. A legal secretary, Miss Fuller retired at age 65 and lived to be 100 years old. Today, there are 134,000 Vermonters on Social Security.

Before Social Security was enacted, about half of senior citizens in the United States lived in poverty.  Today, 9.1 percent live in poverty. “Social Security has been the most successful anti-poverty program in American history,” Sanders said. “We must oppose all efforts to cut Social Security and fight hard to expand it.”

The need to protect Social Security was underscored by a Federal Reserve study released last Thursday which found that 1 in 5 Americans near retirement have no savings.

Another recent study said deciding when to retire and claim Social Security benefits can be one of the most important financial decisions older Americans make. The report – prepared for Sanders by the Government Accountability Office – said many people sacrifice future payments by claiming benefits at age 62, the earliest age of eligibility. The study said those who retire this year will receive monthly benefits that are 25 percent less than if they had waited until they turn 66, the current full retirement age.

Sanders stressed that Social Security has not contributed to federal deficits and $2.76 trillion surplus in the trust fund can pay all benefits owed to every eligible American for   the next 19 years.

Still, the program has come under attack by some in Congress who would cut benefits by using a so-called chained consumer price index to change how cost-of-living adjustments are calculated. Sanders formed the Defending Social Security Caucus in the Senate to lead the fight against that proposal.

To keep Social Security strong in the future, Sanders has proposed legislation to lift a cap on Social Security payroll taxes above $250,000 to make the wealthy contribute the same percentage of their income as other workers. Under current law, the 6.2 percent payroll tax is applied to all income up to $117,000. Under Sanders’ proposal, no one earning less than $250,000 would see their taxes go up. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, only the top 1.3 percent of workers would be affected if the Social Security payroll tax were applied to income above $250,000.