TOLEDO, OH — Today, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) announced his support for a bill that would increase benefits for seniors and extend the solvency of the Social Security Trust Fund, which nearly two in three Americans rely on for at least half of their income in old age.

“Social Security is the key to retirement security for working families,” Brown said. “Seniors spend a lifetime paying into Social Security, but as the cost of living continues to rise, the budgets of many are stretched to the breaking point. That is why Congress needs to do more to ensure that our seniors receive the benefits they’ve earned so that they can continue to retire with dignity. The Strengthening Social Security Act of 2013 would do this by expanding benefits, strengthening the program’s future, and making retirement more secure for all Americans.”     

At the Margaret Hunt Senior Center in Toledo, Brown outlined his support for the Strengthening Social Security Act of 2013, legislation which would:

Strengthen Benefits by Reforming the Social Security Benefit Formula: The bill would change the method by which the Social Security Administration (SSA) calculates Social Security benefits. This change will boost benefits for all Social Security beneficiaries by approximately $70 per month, but is targeted to help those in the low and middle of the income distribution, for whom Social Security has become an ever greater share of their retirement income. 

Ensure that Cost of Living Adjustments Adequately Reflect the Living Expenses of Retirees: the bill would change the way the Social Security Administration calculates the Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA). Currently, the annual adjustment is tied to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for all Urban Wage Earners (CPI-W) for the purposes of calculating inflation. However, the CPI-W is based on a basket of goods that does not adequately track the purchases of seniors. For example, unlike younger working age Americans, retirees spend significantly more on medical care, whose costs have been rising much more quickly in recent years. As a result, to ensure that benefits better reflect cost increases facing seniors, future COLAs will be based on the CPI for the Elderly (CPI-E). The CPI-E is an experimental index that the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has been keeping since 1982. Making this change to Social Security is expected to result in higher COLAs, ensuring that seniors are able to better keep up with the rising costs of essential items, like prescription drugs. 

Improve the Long Term Financial Condition of the Trust Fund: Social Security is not in crisis, but does face a long-term deficit. According to the most recent Social Security Trustees report, the Trust Fund will be able to pay full benefits through 2033, or another 20 years. To help extend the life of the trust fund, and decrease the 75 year actuarial deficit, the legislation would phase out the current taxable cap of $113,700 and instead ask the wealthiest Americans to contribute to the program the same share of their income as the middle class. In order to minimize the burden on employers, this change would be phased in over a five year period.

Brown was joined by Sam Burnett, a Midwest Region board member of the National Alliance for Retired Americans; a member of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare; and a 2013 inductee into the Ohio Seniors Hall of Fame. Burnett discussed the importance of this legislation and ensuring senior Social Security benefits are not cut.

“Today we stand with pride with U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown because his legislation helps the more than two million retirees and older Americans in Ohio,” Burnett said. “The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare supports Senator Brown’s efforts to give solvency and extend the life of the Trust Fund.  The leadership of Senator Brown shows us this change will give security and confidence in the system and improve the quality of life for so many. The change and improvement in the CPI-E formula will help our senior citizens as they deal daily with the ever increasing cost of living. I appreciate the Senator’s concern and his efforts to do something to help our folks in need.”

For nearly two-thirds of American seniors, Social Security provides more than half of their income. For more than one-third of American seniors, it provides more than 90 percent of their income. And for one-quarter of American seniors, Social Security is their sole source of income.

Also joining Brown were two Northwest Ohio seniors who will raise awareness that many seniors like themselves rely on Social Security to keep them out of poverty and retire with dignity. Toni Shultz is a 65 year old retired nurse from Toledo Children’s Hospital. Early Bunts is an 85 year old retired factory worker from Hunt’s canning plant in Toledo.

The bill is currently endorsed by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL–CIO); American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME); Alliance for Retired Americans; Campaign for Community Change; National Organization for Women (NOW); the National Education Associate (NEA); Paralyzed Veterans of America; Strengthen Social Security Coalition; Social Security Works; United Autoworkers (UAW), and United Steelworkers (USW).

Today’s press conference follows last month’s announcement by the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) that monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits will increase by 1.5 percent in 2014, benefiting nearly 63 million Americans. Brown responded that while more than two million Ohioans will see their Social Security benefits increase next year, many seniors are still struggling to make ends meet and that Congress needs to do more to ensure that seniors can continue to retire with dignity.  

In 2011, Brown joined the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) to announce the Consumer Price Index for Elderly Consumers Act. The legislation would change the COLA formula for Social Security to more accurately reflect the expenses of senior citizens. Because of the method by which inflation is calculated, seniors and other Social Security recipients did not receive a COLA in 2010 and 2011, even though the price of prescription drugs, food, energy, and other necessities continued to rise.