Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Veterans' Health Care Bill 'Critical First Step'

Veterans' Health Care Bill 'Critical First Step' in Addressing VA Failures

Mike Hall AFL-CIO
Spurred by the recent revelations about long waiting lists, denied critical health care for military veterans, management cover-ups and other serious problems at Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals and health care facilities, Senate and House leaders have agreed on veterans' health care funding and reform package.

AFGE President J. David Cox Sr. calls the legislation by the leaders of the House and Senate Veterans' Affairs committees:

"A critical step toward getting the VA back on track so veterans do not have to wait for care….As [Senate Veterans' Affairs] Chairman [Sen.] Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) reminded us, this legislation is the beginning, not the end, of a long overdue effort to make the VA strong again and address the true cost of war."

The $17 billion supplemental funding measure must be approved by both houses, which leave for a five-week summer recess at the end of this week.

The bill will begin to address chronic short staffing of doctors, nurses and support personnel. This will assist in getting veterans in the door to receive the top-notch care they have earned, says AFGE, health care that veterans regularly choose over the option of going outside the VA. Inadequate staffing has been widely shown to be the root cause of the unacceptable delays and wait-list manipulation.

It includes $2 billion to lease 27 new medical facilities and $5 billion to hire doctors, nurses and other staff and funding for treatment of traumatic brain injury and military sexual trauma and improved educational benefits.

The bill also the gives the VA secretary new power to fire executives at the agency. Says Cox:

"Although AFGE supports accountability for VA executives responsible for wait-list manipulation, accountability does not require eliminating due process rights; we have all seen in recent months the culture of fear in the VA that intimidates and harms employees trying to speak up for veterans. Due process protects the innocent; we want to make sure we only punish the guilty."

Monday, July 28, 2014

Statement on Social Security

Statement by Retiree Leader Richard Fiesta on the 2014 Social Security and Medicare Trustees Reports

The following statement was issued by Richard Fiesta, Executive Director of the Alliance for Retired Americans, in response to Trustees reports issued today on the Social Security and Medicare Trust Funds:

Washington, DC - “The most important lesson from the 2014 Social Security Trustees Report is that Social Security has a large and growing surplus. Today's report projects Social Security’s cumulative surplus to be roughly $2.8 trillion in 2014, growing to about $2.9 trillion around 2020. The report reaffirms that, without any changes, Social Security can pay full benefits until 2033 and three-quarters of benefits after that, unchanged from last year’s report.

“The Medicare Trustees report reminds us once again that the Affordable Care Act is controlling health care costs. It is great news that the life of the Medicare Trust Fund has been extended by another four years to 2030. Attempts to repeal health care reform would only undo the progress we have made in controlling health care costs.

“Current and future retirees must be wary of those politicians who will use today’s Social Security and Medicare Trustees reports as political cover for radical changes that would put seniors, the disabled, and the families of deceased workers at risk. For instance, we do not need to cut Social Security to address the projected shortfall in the disability trust fund. Rather, we just need a technical adjustment. Congress should, as it has done multiple times before, simply reallocate income across these funds.”

“More and more politicians are actually advancing proposals to expand Social Security. One example, the Strengthen Social Security Act (S.567 and H.R. 3118), introduced by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA), would increase annual Social Security benefits by an average of $800. That is an improvement to our retiree system, and we support it.

“The 49th anniversary of President Lyndon Baines Johnson signing Medicare into law will be this Wednesday, July 30. That means next year, Medicare turns 50 – and the Alliance for Retired Americans intends to make sure Medicare is still strong then, and for our children, and for our grandchildren.”


Friday, July 18, 2014

Alliance for Retired Americans Friday Alert 7-18-14

Headlines:
Capitol Hill Event Puts Focus on Older Unemployed Workers
Alliance Joins Boycott of Staples over Efforts to Privatize Postal Operations
Social Security Administration Will Still Issue Verification Letters at Field Offices
Alliance Urges Members to Make Voices Heard on Field Office Closings
Affordable Care Act Success Fails to Bring Political Reward
Fiesta Meets With AFSCME Retiree Council

Capitol Hill Event Puts Focus on Older Unemployed Workers
On Wednesday, Richard Fiesta, Executive Director of the Alliance, teamed up with several Members of Congress, the Center for Effective Government, and other advocacy organizations to draw attention to older unemployed jobseekers. The Capitol Hill event highlighted the disproportionate impact of long-term unemployment on both near-retirees and younger workers (20’s). In the past month, the coalition has also highlighted the effect of long-term unemployment on children, women, and veterans. The events were inspired by a story bank, which the Center for Effective Government began in order to document the impact of a rough job market on more than 2 million Americans who were cut off from extended unemployment benefits at the end of 2013. Wednesday’s event featured Reps. Daniel Kildee (MI), Dina Titus (NV), Steven Horsford (NV), Rosa DeLauro (CT), Jan Schakowsky (IL), Steny Hoyer (MD), Chris Van Hollen (MD), David Cicilline (RI) and others.  The Center for Effective Government has collected over 2400 stories about unemployed retirees who have spent down their savings and need the unemployment benefits for basic needs.

“Older jobseekers often face unemployment discrimination as they look for work, and they also have the longest bouts of unemployment,” said Mr. Fiesta. “The average duration of unemployment for workers ages 55 to 64 is 11 months, according to the Department of Labor. That's three months longer than the average for 25- to 36-year-olds.” You can view the photo archive from the event at http://tinyurl.com/l5ovmy2. To view video footage, go to http://tinyurl.com/n4dv66n.

Alliance Joins Boycott of Staples over Efforts to Privatize Postal Operations
The Alliance is asking its members to support the American Postal Workers Union’s (APWU) efforts to stop the privatization of postal operations by joining APWU members in boycotting stores of the office supply chain Staples. The retailer recently reached a deal with the U.S. Postal Service that threatens to replace full-service U.S. Post Offices with knock-off post offices in Staples stores that are staffed with low-wage non-U.S. Postal Service employees. “We are proud to stand with the workers of the U.S. Postal Service to protect living wage jobs that offer workers the opportunity for a dignified, secure retirement,” said Ruben Burks, Secretary-Treasurer of the Alliance.

Earlier this week, just days after the 1.6 million member American Federation of Teachers joined the Staples boycott, the company appeared to back down by announcing that it would be ending its original pilot program with the U.S. Postal Service. Despite the announcement, however, it appears that the retailer will continue to offer USPS services at its stores. “This attempt at trickery shows that the ‘Don’t Buy Staples’ movement is having an effect,” said Mark Dimondstein, President of the American Postal Workers Union. “Staples and the USPS are changing the name of the program, without addressing the fundamental concerns of postal workers and postal customers.” The boycott has already been endorsed by a number of other organizations including the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). For information on the Staples boycott, go to http://www.stopstaples.com/.

Social Security Administration Will Still Issue Verification Letters at Field Offices
Bowing to pressure from Alliance activists, lawmakers, and others, the Social Security Administration (SSA) announced on Thursday that it will continue to provide benefit verification letters at Social Security field offices. The announcement reverses a previous plan to stop issuing the documents at field offices and shift to online-only availability. Verification letters are often provided to employers and government agencies in order to verify that beneficiaries are receiving benefits. With rates of internet access significantly lower among seniors and low-income Americans, the previous plan threatened to harm the beneficiaries most likely to request verification letters. “Our activists’ voices were heard. Alliance leaders and members have been saying for months that online benefit verification records by themselves are not enough to satisfy everyone’s needs,” said Barbara J. Easterling, President of the Alliance. To read the announcement from SSA, go to http://tinyurl.com/lm34ljg.

Alliance Urges Members to Make Voices Heard on Field Office Closings
Over the last several years, budget cuts at SSA have resulted in 80 field office closings and nearly 11,000 fewer staff providing face-to-face assistance. These cuts come during an unprecedented increase in demand for critical SSA services as Baby Boomers hit retirement age. In response to the wave of SSA staff reductions and field office closings, the Alliance is asking members to call their representatives in Congress and let them know that service cuts at the Social Security Administration have to stop. For information on the service cuts, as well as phone numbers for contacting your representatives, see the flier from the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) at http://tinyurl.com/lja4wg4

Affordable Care Act Success Fails to Bring Political Reward
More than 350,000 North Carolina residents have signed up for health coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), but that success has not translated into political support for the law or the leaders who voted for it. In the state, the Democratic Senate incumbent, Kay Hagan, is locked in one of the tightest races in the country and, despite increasing signs of the ACA’s success, is facing sharp criticism over her support of the law. Her opponent, Republican Thom Tillis, has made his opposition to the ACA a focus of the campaign, and Sen. Hagan rarely mentions the law on the campaign trail. The gap between the law’s success and its status as a political liability is a sign of a disconnect that has appeared in states across the country. “The Affordable Care Act is bringing health coverage to millions of uninsured Americans while helping seniors by lowering the cost of prescription drugs and expanding free preventive screenings. It’s important that we spread the word about the benefits we continue to see from the health reform law,” said Ms. Easterling. To read more about the gap between the success of the Affordable Care Act and support for the law, go to http://tinyurl.com/lw3u8wc.

Fiesta Meets With AFSCME Retiree Council
Mr. Fiesta traveled to Chicago to meet with the AFSCME Retiree Council on Saturday and Sunday.

For a printable version of this document, go to http://bit.ly/WiNldX.

For the Alliance's Spanish language page, which includes last week's Friday Alert in Spanish, go to www.alianzadejubilados.org

Friday, July 11, 2014

Alliance for Retired Americans Friday Alert 7-11-14

Headlines:
Social Security Disability Insurance Event Shines a Light on Program’s Importance
Alliance Cosponsors Tele-town Hall on Caregivers’ Credit with Rep. Nita Lowey
Growth in Medicare Spending Slows Dramatically
Hawaii Alliance Holds Annual Legislative Review, Honors Former President Hamai
Graying Prison Population Means New Health Care Costs for States
Fiesta Addresses AFT Retirees

Social Security Disability Insurance Event Shines a Light on Program’s Importance
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) coverage, which workers earn through Social Security payroll tax contributions, provides benefits to 8.9 million disabled American workers and 1.9 million dependent children of disabled workers. On Tuesday, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Alliance Legislative Representative Eva Dominguez were featured speakers at an event hosted by the Center for American Progress focusing on the importance of SSDI. Sen. Brown spoke about the need to expand Social Security and the Republican strategy to use SSDI as a way to undermine support for the entire Social Security system. Ms. Dominguez shared stories, sent in by Alliance members, about how SSDI has been a crucial safety net for them.

For 80% of disabled workers, SSDI is the primary or only source of income, and it provides a drastic increase in the quality of life of recipients who might otherwise live in poverty. Only one-third of private-sector workers has employer-provided long-term disability insurance, and most of those plans often provide less than SSDI. Only 7% of workers who make $12 per hour or less have such insurance, since most private long-term disability insurance plans are too costly for most workers. For more on SSDI from the AFL-CIO blog, along with a link to video of the event, go to http://tinyurl.com/k7pqfh4.

Alliance Cosponsors Tele-town Hall on Caregivers’ Credit with Rep. Nita Lowey
Also on Tuesday, the Alliance co-sponsored a teletown hall on Social Security featuring Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY). The event focused on Lowey’s introduction of H.R.5024, the Social Security Caregiver Credit Act of 2014 - legislation that would allow time workers spend out of the workforce caring for a family member to count towards Social Security work credits. Since Social Security benefits are based on lifetime earnings, current rules mean that taking time out of the workforce to care for a loved one can result in reduced benefits at retirement. The caregiver credit would allow up to five years of time spent out of the workforce providing home care to count towards Social Security work credits.

“Under the existing rules, caregivers are effectively penalized for taking care of a family member. This penalty especially hurts working women who are more likely to take on caregiver responsibilities. It’s long past time for the important work of our nation’s caregivers to be recognized when it comes to Social Security benefits,” said Barbara J. Easterling, President of the Alliance.     

Growth in Medicare Spending Slows Dramatically
New estimates suggest that Medicare spending in 2014 is expected to be more than $1,000 lower per beneficiary than was projected when the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010. Current estimates, reported by the Kaiser Family Foundation, anticipate that the trend will continue. By 2019, per-beneficiary spending will be nearly $2,400 lower than projected in 2010. While experts are unable to account fully for the decline, much of it appears to be tied to Medicare savings provisions of the Affordable Care Act, along with efficiency gains implemented by providers in response to incentives included in the health care law. Other possible contributors include the use of new data systems to more effectively track health spending and several popular brand name prescription drugs going off patent in recent years.

“These new estimates are more evidence that the Affordable Care Act is working to control costs and make health care more affordable for everyone, including seniors. Curbing the rise in health costs means lower Medicare premiums, an improved budget outlook, and healthier balance sheets for the Medicare trust fund,” said Richard Fiesta, Executive Director for the Alliance. To read more about the spending slowdown, go to http://tinyurl.com/o3wo3uu.

Hawaii Alliance Holds Annual Legislative Review, Honors Former President Hamai
The Hawaii Alliance recently teamed with fellow advocacy organization Kokua Council to co-host the 8th Annual HARA/Kokua Council Legislative Review at the Hawaii State Capitol in Honolulu.  Eight state legislators participated in the event, including state Senate President Donna Mercado Kim (D) and state House Speaker Joseph Souki (D). With a crowd of retiree activists along with representatives from a number of government and non-profit organizations in attendance, the legislators reported on recent policy developments, provided a number of informational handouts, and took part in a question and answer session. Former HARA President Al Hamai was presented with the Shining Light award in recognition of his many contributions to the Hawaii Alliance and his years of work on retiree issues. The event also saw a presentation by Hawaii Alliance President Justin Wong.   

Graying Prison Population Means New Health Care Costs for States
A new survey suggests that a rapidly aging inmate population could lead to budget problems for the nation’s prison system. According to the report from the Pew Charitable Trusts, the number of prison inmates 55 and older jumped 204% between 1999 and 2012, a period in which the under-55 inmate population increased by only 9%. The staggering uptick is the result of stiffer sentencing laws and an increase in the number of older felons. As a result of the nation’s aging inmate population, prisons are being forced to shoulder higher health care costs and spend money to retrofit existing structures to accommodate the physical needs of older adults. More from American Public Media’s Marketplace is at http://tinyurl.com/nx8q5qq.

“There is a high cost to denying parole to our oldest felons,” said Ruben Burks, Secretary-Treasurer of the Alliance. “In cases where the threat to public safety remains high, and the prisoner is not rehabilitated, parole is not the answer. However, that is not always the case. That is why officials in many states are now reconsidering and trying to make it easier for these inmates to be released.”

Fiesta Addresses AFT Retirees
Mr. Fiesta traveled to Los Angeles to speak at the American Federation of Teachers Retiree Conference on Thursday and Friday.

For a printable version of this document, go to http://tinyurl.com/mzvpcu8

For the Alliance's Spanish language page, which includes last week's Friday Alert in Spanish, go to www.alianzadejubilados.org

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Alliance for Retired Americans Friday Alert 7-4-14




Headlines:
Supreme Court Sides with One Percent in Home Health Care Case
Americans are United on Support for Social Security
New Census Report Gives Detailed Look at the 65-and-Over Crowd
Companies that Pay Above Minimum Wage Come Out Ahead
Centenarians Less Likely to Succumb to Chronic Illness

Supreme Court Sides with One Percent in Home Health Care Case
On Monday, the Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision that makes it harder for home care workers to deliver quality care for their clients. The case, Harris v. Quinn, involves home health care workers in Illinois who are paid through Medicaid but primarily supervised by home care recipients. In a majority ruling authored by Justice Samuel Alito, the court held that although these workers are paid by the state, they fall into a category of workers termed “partial government employees” and are not subject to the same labor rules as other public workers including firefighters, school teachers, and police officers. The court ruled that these home health care workers cannot be required pay fair share fees to unions bargaining on their behalf. The Court did uphold the right of other public employees to have a voice at work by declining to overturn a 37-year old precedent that permits fair-share agreements for public employees. Under such agreements, workers may opt out of union fees designated for political ends but are required to cover a share of costs associated with other union activities such as collective bargaining.

The anti-union organization, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation – funded by the Koch and Walton families and others – brought the Harris v. Quinn suit.  Richard Fiesta, Executive Director of the Alliance, said, “Corporations, the Koch brothers and their extremist allies continue to pursue anti-retiree, anti-worker legislation in the states and in the courts. Instead of using the courts to take away the rights of working Americans like caregivers, we must reduce income and wealth inequality and enhance Americans’ economic security in both working years and in retirement.” The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) President Lee Saunders said that the Supreme Court decision "does not dampen the resolve of home care workers and child care providers to come together to have a strong voice for good jobs and to give care to millions of seniors, people with disabilities and children." Read more here http://bit.ly/1m5LK4k.

Americans are United on Support for Social Security
The American public may be divided on a host of issues, but a recent survey released by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press points to overwhelming support for our Social Security system. Although Americans express concern about the long-term solvency of the program, just one-third of Americans believe benefit cuts should be considered.

There is little variation between ideological camps. Fifty-nine percent of conservatives and two-thirds of liberals agree that benefits should be maintained at current levels. The proposal with the most support across the political spectrum regarding maintaining long-term viability involves gradually lifting the earnings cap on Social Security contributions, increasing Social Security payroll taxes from 6.2% to 7.2%, and modestly expanding benefits. “The American public stands firmly behind strengthening and expanding Social Security. With multiple Social Security expansion bills including the Raise Act and the Strengthening Social Security Act already circulating in the Senate, it looks like our leaders in Washington are starting to get the message,” said Barbara Easterling, President of the Alliance. For more details on public support for Social Security, go to http://on-msn.com/1vsGSaI.

New Census Report Gives Detailed Look at the 65-and-Over Crowd
A new report released by the US Census Bureau paints a picture of a shifting demographic landscape for people over age 65 in the United States. Among the findings are an increasing number of working seniors, a more racially diverse over-65 population, and fewer seniors living in traditional nursing homes. With 40.3 million adults over age 65 in 2010, seniors made up 13.0% of the nation’s population. That figure is expected to rise to 20.9% by 2050. The study notes that Social Security is the largest single income source for Americans over age 65, making up 36.7% of aggregate income in 2010. For the lowest earning fifth of seniors, Social Security makes up more than 84% of income. “With so many Americans approaching retirement age, it’s becoming all the more important that we fight to protect Social Security and Medicare, cornerstones of retirement security,” said Ruben Burks, Secretary-Treasurer of the Alliance. For more on the study, go to http://1.usa.gov/1nZ78Wb.

Companies that Pay Above Minimum Wage Come Out Ahead
Zeynep Ton, with the MIT Sloan School of Management, wrote in a Forbes article this week (http://onforb.es/1mhWZbA), “Retail and fast-food jobs are here to stay. Unless these jobs become better jobs, millions of people who work will continue to live in poverty and rely on public assistance.” She points out that nearly one fifth of American workers work in retail and fast food, earning poverty-level wages, have unpredictable schedules and few opportunities for success and growth. When Ton examined large companies that voluntarily pay their employees well above the minimum wage including Costco, Trader Joe’s, QuikTrip (a U.S. chain of convenience stores), and Mercadona (Spain’s largest supermarket chain), she found commonalities. They consider their workforce a strategic asset, not a cost to minimize; and the companies make smart operational choices that increase employee productivity and “motivate [employees] to play a much bigger role in driving sales and reducing costs.”

Gene Lantz, President of the Texas Alliance for Retired Americans said, “The better we work, the better we retire. We’ve been in this race-to-the bottom for too long. Companies that pay their workers a living wage and provide healthcare and other benefits are in-the-right and their businesses are setting a successful example.” He continued, “It’s time other corporations wise up and get behind efforts to raise the minimum wage, support the Walmart organizing drive, and push for $15 per hour for food service workers.”

Centenarians Less Likely to Succumb to Chronic Illness
A recently released study from the U.K. suggests that older adults reaching age 100 are less likely to die from illnesses that are among the most common causes of death for younger seniors. According to LiveScience, only 8.6% of centenarians passed away from heart disease and only 4.4% from cancer. For the 80 to 85 crowd, heart disease accounted for 19% of deaths with cancer accounting for 24%. Although less likely to succumb to chronic illnesses, centenarians are more prone to sudden infections that can lead to rapid health decline. The leading causes of death for seniors over 100 were found to be old age and pneumonia. For more, go to http://bit.ly/1qy5HUV.

For a printable version of this document, go to http://bit.ly/1zdxhJz.

For the Alliance's Spanish language page, which includes last week's Friday Alert in Spanish, go to www.alianzadejubilados.org