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Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaking at a rally in April 2015.  (Photo: AFGE/flickr/cc)

To Help Hard-Hit Seniors, Warren/Sanders Bill Would Boost Social Security

Legislation would help counter zero cost-of-living adjustment in Social Security benefits millions of Americans face

Andrea Germanos

Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced legislation on Thursday that would provide tens of millions of Americans with an emergency payment while tackling a corporate loophole that boosts CEO pay.

The legislation, the SAVE Benefits Act (pdf), is in response to the blow dealt roughly 65 million Americans last month when the Social Security Administration announced that there would be no annual cost-of-living increase for 2016.

It would provide an emergency payment of about $580—that's equal to 3.9 percent of the average annual Social Security benefit—which could help some 70 million seniors, veterans, people with disabilities, and others meet critical needs, a statement from the senators explains.

The 3.9 percent isn't a random figure—that's the increase in CEO compensation for the top 350 U.S. firms last year. The average salary of those CEOs was $16.3 million.

"This discrepancy [between increased CEO compensation and lack of raise for Social Security beneficiaries] isn’t an accident. It’s the result of choices made by Congress," a fact sheet (pdf) for the Act states.

The legislation would fund the emergency payments by closing a tax loophole that allows publicly traded companies to deduct so-called performance-based executive pay. Extra funds would be used to strengthen the Social Security and Disability trust funds.  A 2013 report from advocacy group Public Citizen found that the loophole for just the 20 highest paid CEOs had cost taxpayers as much as $235 million in lost tax revenue. 

"If we do nothing, on January 1st, more than 70 million seniors, veterans, and other Americans won't get an extra dime in much-needed Social Security and other benefits. And while Congress sits on its hands and pretends that there's nothing we can do, taxpayers will keep right on subsidizing billions of dollars' worth of bonuses for highly paid CEOs," Warren stated. "Giving seniors a little help with their Social Security and stitching up corporate tax write-offs isn't just about economics; it's about our values."

Sanders called the lack of a cost-of-living adjustment "unacceptable."

"At a time when senior poverty is going up and more than two-thirds of the elderly population rely on Social Security for more than half of their income, our job must be to expand, not cut, Social Security," Sanders said in a press statement. "At the very least, we must do everything we can to make sure that every senior citizen and disabled veteran in this country receives a fair cost-of-living adjustment to keep up with the skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs and health care."

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