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This Labor Day, Social Security’s Future Hangs in the Balance

Trump is devastating the nation, and not only by his incompetent handling of the pandemic. He threatens the economic security of America's families by defunding, and apparently planning to destroy, Social Security.

"Just as justice delayed is justice denied, delaying Social Security's dedicated revenue is the foolproof way to deny Social Security benefits," writes Altman. "Denying those benefits would provide Trump and his allies in Congress enough leverage to force whatever concessions they choose to extract." (Image: iStock/via Getty Images)

"Just as justice delayed is justice denied, delaying Social Security's dedicated revenue is the foolproof way to deny Social Security benefits," writes Altman. "Denying those benefits would provide Trump and his allies in Congress enough leverage to force whatever concessions they choose to extract." (Image: iStock/via Getty Images)

Labor Day is a time to celebrate the essential contributions workers make to our collective wealth and wellbeing. During this Covid-19 pandemic, the commonly-used phrase "essential workers" brings to mind the often underappreciated but crucial contributions that workers such as nurses, grocery store employees, bus drivers, farm workers, and delivery people make to our lives.

In this time of widespread insecurity, uncertainty, and economic collapse, Social Security continues to protect workers who are on the front lines of the pandemic, just as it continues to protect all workers and their families. During a raging pandemic and the resulting economic hardship, Social Security is more vital to American workers’ economic security than ever.

"Every generation has built on the strong foundation laid down 85 years ago, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Social Security into law. Now it is our turn."Social Security is there for the families of those who have succumbed to COVID-19. It will be there for those who suffer long-term disabilities as a result of the novel coronavirus, impacts just starting to be understood.

This Labor Day, as we sprint toward the November election, the future of Social Security is on the ballot. Donald Trump is devastating the nation, and not only by his incompetent handling of the pandemic. He threatens the economic security of America’s families by defunding, and apparently planning to destroy, Social Security.

That is not an overstatement. On August 8, Donald Trump took the unprecedented step of unilaterally deferring about $100 billion of Social Security's dedicated revenue. As he did that, he bragged that, if reelected, he would "terminate"—his word—Social Security’s dedicated revenue. (Elsewhere, I have explained how, if reelected, Trump could continue to unilaterally defer Social Security's dedicated revenue and literally kill Social Security as we know it.) 



Just as justice delayed is justice denied, delaying Social Security's dedicated revenue is the foolproof way to deny Social Security benefits. Denying those benefits would provide Trump and his allies in Congress enough leverage to force whatever concessions they choose to extract.

According to a letter (pdf) released by Stephen Goss, the independent Chief Actuary of Social Security, Trump's plan to "terminate" Social Security's dedicated funding if he is reelected would destroy Social Security. Goss states that if Social Security’s funding were terminated, the Disability Insurance (DI) Trust Fund would be exhausted by 2021 and the Old Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) Trust Fund would be exhausted by 2023 "with no ability to pay benefits thereafter." Goss is not a politician, but rather a hard-working civil servant who has served under every president since Richard Nixon.

This should put all supporters of Social Security on red alert. It is easy to become overwhelmed by this chaotic president. He does not hide his contempt for prisoners of war, Gold Star families whose loved ones have paid the ultimate price, and others who serve the greater good. He urges Americans to commit felonies by voting twice. He slows down the mail, including deliveries of life-saving medications, to help him remain in power. He attacks truth itself. So, he undermines Social Security? What's the big deal?

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"The big deal is that, without Social Security, one out of two seniors would be left impoverished. So would millions of people with disabilities and millions of children who have lost parents."The big deal is that, without Social Security, one out of two seniors would be left impoverished. So would millions of people with disabilities and millions of children who have lost parents. Like the military, the free press, our fair elections, and our postal service, Social Security is a vital institution. The choice this election could not be clearer.

Donald Trump has slanderously compared our Social Security system to a criminal enterprise, a Ponzi scheme. Not surprisingly, given his obsession with the stock market, he has publicly called for Social Security to be privatized, converting our guaranteed Social Security benefits to a gamble. He hid his true views during the lead up to the 2016 election. But every single one of his proposed budgets, once in office — for 20182020, and 2021 — cut trillions from what he calls entitlements: Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security.

Since the 2016 election, he's found a new way to cover his tracks: Claim he is giving a tax break in response to the current crisis when he is actually defunding Social Security. His views about Social Security are wildly out of step with the American people, so he lies about them. But his actions speak louder than his words. He will only succeed if we let him.

Everyone should listen to Social Security’s independent Chief Actuary and alert your friends and family: If Trump wins reelection, Social Security will be at his mercy.

In contrast, Joe Biden wants to protect and expand Social Security:

Biden understands that expanding Social Security's modest benefits is a solution. It is a solution to our nation's looming retirement income crisis, where too many of today's workers will not be able to retire without a drastic decline in their standards of living. It is a solution to rising income and wealth inequality, made worse by the pandemic. He supports expanding Social Security while requiring those earning over $400,000 to pay more.

In sharp contrast to Trump, Biden’s response to the coronavirus crisis is not to attack Social Security. Instead, he is championing a proposal—originally from Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Ron Wyden (D-OR)—to increase Social Security benefits by $200 a month for the duration of the crisis.

These two approaches to Social Security are night and day. While Donald Trump wants to destroy and defund Social Security, Joe Biden wants to protect and expand it.

This Labor Day, it's clear that Joe Biden is the candidate who stands with today's essential workers, just as he stands with all American workers and their families. If those workers and their families recognize the truth and vote accordingly, Joe Biden and the Democrats will win on November 3rd. Armed with that victory, Joe Biden and his Democratic allies will fight to protect and expand Social Security.

Every generation has built on the strong foundation laid down 85 years ago, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Social Security into law. Now it is our turn. We can build it bigger and stronger by electing Joe Biden. If we vote correctly, we will have much to celebrate for many Labor Days to come.

Nancy J. Altman

Nancy J. Altman is president of Social Security Works and chair of the Strengthen Social Security coalition. She has a 40-year background in the areas of Social Security and private pensions. Her latest book is The Truth About Social Security. She is also the author of The Battle for Social Security and co-author of Social Security Works!

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