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National Opinion: Arizona seniors can't rely on Trump to protect Social Security

National Opinion: Arizona seniors can't rely on Trump to protect Social Security

The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer:

In 2016, President Trump won Arizona with just 48% of the vote. No doubt, many voters believed his promises to protect retirees’ earned benefits. But Trump broke those promises. For seniors, the most blatant betrayal was Trump’s reckless Social Security payroll tax suspension – along with his pledge to “terminate” Social Security’s main funding source if reelected.

The average Social Security retirement benefit in Arizona is a modest $1,386. Nearly half of retirees rely on Social Security for all of their income. Seniors must stretch those benefits to pay for the ever-rising costs of essentials like food, housing and medicine.

Next year’s meager 1.3% Social Security cost-of-living increase (about $20 for the average beneficiary) will barely cover a prescription co-pay or a bag of groceries. Retirees living on fixed incomes cannot afford to have their benefits jeopardized by a reckless president.

In August, President Trump issued an executive order deferring employees’ payroll taxes, from which Social Security derives most of its revenue. His order not only caused confusion among employers, it required workers to repay the deferred taxes in 2021. In so doing, the president displayed an ignorance of (or disregard for) the way Social Security is funded.

Social Security’s chief actuary estimated that if payroll taxes are “terminated” without being replaced by other revenue, Social Security’s trust fund would go bust in 2023, unable to pay seniors any benefits.

But Trump’s undermining of Social Security doesn’t end there.

All of his annual budgets have proposed slashing Social Security Disability Insurance, or SSDI, by billions of dollars. His former budget chief, Mick Mulvaney, disingenuously claimed that SSDI was not even part of “Social Security,” despite its name. The Trump administration has also tried to make it harder for disabled workers to continue collecting their SSDI benefits.

After the Trump/GOP tax cuts of 2017 benefitting the wealthy and big corporations, the President’s allies and advisors called for “entitlement reform” (code for Social Security and Medicare benefit cuts) to cover the loss of revenue. President Trump then said he would “take a look” at “entitlements” in his second term.

Joe Biden has a plan to expand Social Security for older and lower-income retirees struggling to make ends meet. He will work with Congress to put Social Security on a sound financial footing by having the wealthy begin contributing their fair share in payroll taxes.

He will say no to privatization and benefit cuts.

President Trump has called 2020 “the most important election in U.S. history.” We agree. It is especially crucial for seniors because Social Security is at a crossroads. The president promises to terminate the program’s main funding source. The choice for older voters is clear. Arizona seniors need a president who will defend — not defund — the benefits they have earned over a lifetime of work.

Max Richtman is president and CEO of the nonprofit National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. He is former staff director of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging.

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