As the United States celebrates the 80th anniversary of the first Social Security payment, Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-26) laid out several steps he is taking to strengthen the program and improve services to recipients.
On January 31, 1940 Ida May Fuller became the first American to receive a Social Security check. That payment of just over $22 monthly wasn't much, but it represented a new promise to Americans: if you work hard, you should live a dignified retirement.
This week Congressman Higgins advocated for action during remarks on the House floor, "Eighty years ago this week Americans began receiving Social Security benefits. Social Security is a highly popular and successful program with a trust fund exceeding $1.9 trillion. With rising life expectancy since the program's inception, adjustments need to be made to improve and strengthen Social Security for future generations."
Higgins is supporting the following legislation:
The Social Security 2100 Act (HR 860): Introduced by Rep. John Larson and cosponsored by Higgins, this bill strengthens Social Security and ensures solvency through the year 2100. The bill would provide a modest increase in benefits for recipients, improve the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) formula to better keep pace with inflation, raise the minimum benefit to ensure low income workers do not retire into poverty, raise the cap on taxable income for high earners making above $400,000, and cut taxes for 12 million middle-income beneficiaries.
The Social Security Administration Accountability Act (HR 3905): Introduced by Higgins, this bill would give Congress more power in evaluating and improving Social Security Administration services to the public by requiring the agency to submit an annual report with information including the number of cases pending and staffing levels in local field offices. Additionally, the bill would require the Social Security Administration to hold public hearings in affected communities before closing or consolidating a field office, which would give community members a voice in protecting the services provided in their community.
Since 2007 the Social Security Administration has closed 18 field offices in New York State alone, including Western New York office closings in Cheektowaga in 2007 and Amherst in 2014. A total of 127 offices have closed across the nation since 2002, impacting access to services and further complicating a program that can be wrought with red tape.
The Know Your Social Security Act (HR 5306): Approved by Higgins and his colleagues on the House Ways and Means Committee, this bill requires the Social Security Administration to provide all workers over 25 years old with annual statements of lifetime earnings, contributions and future benefits.
In 1935, before Social Security, half of all Americans over the age of 65 lived in poverty. Although benefits are modest, with the average retiree beneficiary receiving about $17,640 in Social Security annually, today the program lifts 22 million Americans out of poverty. Approximately 500,000 people living in Western New York region's three Congressional districts receive Social Security.