Trump executive orders threaten SWFL seniors’ Social Security benefits

When debt becomes a realitySocial Security recipients ponder the future of their benefits following Trump’s executive order.

Aug. 10, 2020 by David Silverberg

Southwest Florida seniors receiving Social Security payments and dependent on Medicare healthcare insurance are likely to suffer from President Donald Trump’s weakening of the social safety net programs in one of his latest executive orders.

The order, in the form of a memorandum to the Secretary of the Treasury, was one of four signed by Trump on Saturday, Aug. 8.

The memorandum directs the Secretary of the Treasury to “defer the withholding, deposit, and payment” of payroll taxes paid by people who make less than $4,000 per week ($104,000 per year) for the rest of the year.

Collection of the taxes is deferred, not eliminated, and they will be due in the following year. However, the memorandum directs the Secretary of the Treasury to “explore avenues, including legislation, to eliminate the obligation to pay the taxes…”

These taxes pay for Social Security and Medicare. If eliminated, they would effectively end the programs.

Trump stated at the signing ceremony at his golf club in Bedminster, NJ, that he would seek to eliminate the payroll tax if he is re-elected.

(The other three documents signed by Trump provide $300 per week for eligible recipients for lost wages due to coronavirus using disaster relief funds (generically called unemployment benefits) plus $100 of state funds, minimize foreclosures and evictions, and waive collection of federal student loans for the rest of the year.)

Trump’s order on payroll taxes circumvents Congress’ role in setting tax policy and came in for immediate fire from critics. Members of the House and Senate had been negotiating the next coronavirus relief package. The previous unemployment benefit had been $600 per week.

In a joint statement, House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) blasted Trump’s action, stating: “We’re disappointed that instead of putting in the work to solve Americans’ problems, the President instead chose to stay on his luxury golf course to announce unworkable, weak and narrow policy announcements to slash the unemployment benefits that millions desperately need and endanger seniors’ Social Security and Medicare.”

Nancy LeaMond, executive vice president of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), stated:  “Social Security is more crucial than ever as Americans face the one-two punch of the coronavirus’s health and economic consequences. But, this approach exacerbates people’s already-heightened fears and concerns about their financial and retirement security. Social Security’s guaranteed benefits are indispensable. Families impacted by coronavirus urgently need help, and we believe bipartisan congressional action on another coronavirus aid bill is the right solution.”

Florida Democrats immediately denounced Trump’s actions.

“Amid yesterday’s train wreck of neglect, Trump still manages to needlessly imperil seniors’ Social Security and Medicare benefits,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz  (D-23-Fla.) said in a statement.

Rep. Val Demings (D-10-Fla.), tweeted that “The American people desperately need relief. Instead, the president decided to defund Social Security and Medicare.”

Rep. Ted Deutch (D-22-Fla.) stated that Trump is “using the pandemic to gut Social Security’s funding” and “if he gets a second term, vowed to defund Social Security once and for all.” He noted: “The road to the White House runs through Florida and Donald Trump is about to hit a wall of angry senior voters who have just had enough.”

In Southwest Florida, 19th Congressional District Democratic congressional candidate David Holden tweeted: “First of all, Trump does not control the purse. Secondly, we CANNOT tolerate raiding Social Security under the guise of pandemic relief. This is a ploy. We need direct cash relief to every American (yes, even the ones married to undocumented folks) now.”

Democratic congressional candidate Cindy Banyai stated: “I’m dismayed by Trump’s executive overreach into the legislative process. The president doesn’t have the authority to fund programs, only Congress does, leaving many components of his most recent executive order unconstitutional. I’m particularly worried about the attack on Social Security and Medicare, which people in Southwest Florida rely on heavily. We must protect these vital programs, and our democracy, from the whims of a vanity president.”

As of this writing, none of Southwest Florida’s representatives in the 19th, 25th and 17th congressional districts had commented on the executive actions.

Of the nine Republican candidates running in the 19th Congressional District, only Darren Aquino responded to a request for comment, issuing a statement saying that he “stands with President Trump’s executive orders and President Trump’s refusal to remain hostage to the do-nothing Democrats.” He stated that the payroll tax cut was necessary to give workers extra money and as a member of  Congress, he “promises to pass legislation that will forgive all deferred payroll tax payments.”

Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson retweeted a Trump tweet simply announcing the action.

While precise public figures on the number of Social Security recipients in Lee and Collier counties were not immediately available, according to 2018 Census statistics, 28.6 percent of Lee County’s 618,754 people are 65 or older (which works out to 174,488 people). Of Collier County’s 321,521 people, 32.2 percent are 65 or older (103,530 people). Both counties’ populations have been steadily increasing.

According to DataUSA, a private consortium that repackages government data, 14.7 percent of Lee County’s population is on Medicaid and 20.8 percent is on Medicare. In Collier County that is 12 percent on Medicaid, 24.9 percent on Medicare.

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg