Social Security is a sacred trust—a promise from our government that if you work hard, you’ll have what you need when you retire. And in the decades since its creation, Social Security has become the bedrock of our retirement system, lifting more Americans out of poverty than any other government program.
But today, far too many Americans—young and old alike—are afraid that Social Security won’t provide them with the support they’ll need. And they’re right to worry. The retirement benefits Social Security provides—an average of less than $18,000 annually—are insufficient in today’s economy. It has been estimated that there could be 25 million elderly Americans in poverty by 2050 without changes to our retirement system.
President Trump and Republicans in Congress have only exacerbated this problem. In 2017, they passed a $2 trillion tax cut—tilted to the wealthy and large corporations—and fully intend to use the deficits they created as a justification for cutting Social Security. Already, President Trump has proposed cutting $10 billion from Social Security’s disability program and tried to cut retirement benefits for 2 million federal employees.
But bringing Social Security with us into the 21st century will take more than reversing President Trump’s agenda. That’s why, as president, Beto would make strengthening and protecting Social Security a top priority.
Protecting and Expanding Social Security
Beto will take several steps to improve Social Security benefits while strengthening its long-term finances:
Establish a Caregiving Credit to reduce the gender and racial gaps in Social Security benefits
Social Security benefits are calculated based on an individual’s 35 highest earning years. While the benefit formula is generally progressive, it punishes workers who temporarily leave the workforce in order to care for a child or an ailing parent. This contributes to women receiving lower Social Security benefits than men (since they are more likely to leave the workforce to care for a loved one) and disproportionately affects communities of color across the country.
Beto’s plan would create a Caregiving Credit to Social Security, building on legislation introduced in the House and Senate by Representative Nita Lowey and Senator Chris Murphy. Americans engaged in caring for a child under 12 or a family member of any age who needs help performing daily activities would receive a credit equal to 50 percent of the average earnings of a full-time, year-round worker under his plan. Americans could collect Caregiving Credits for five years, and these credits would help reduce gender and racial gaps in Social Security benefits. Family caregivers of veterans who receive a stipend through the Family Caregiver Program would also be eligible for credits.
Protect Social Security’s finances while increasing benefits
As President, Beto will champion the Social Security 2100 Act, a bill Beto co-sponsored in Congress, which would expand Social Security benefits while keeping Social Security solvent beyond 2092. The Act immediately helps seniors with an across-the-board increase in Social Security benefits, lower taxes on benefits, and a higher minimum benefit to protect low-income seniors. It also improves the cost-of-living adjustment to better reflect the costs that retirees face.
At the same time, Beto will safeguard Social Security for future generations. Right now, the program is financed by taxes on the first $133,000 of workers’ earnings every year. That means millionaires and billionaires are paying less in Social Security taxes as a percentage of their income than truck drivers and nurses. Beto’s plan will help address this disparity by applying the Social Security tax to wages above $400,000 (affecting the top 0.4 percent of wage earners).
Restore the Social Security student benefit
Beto will reinstate a Social Security benefit that had allowed full-time students who were 22 years old or younger to collect a deceased parent’s Social Security benefits. Currently, they cannot collect benefits beyond high school.
Modernize survivor benefits to reflect modern families
Social Security’s survivor benefit structure reflects an outdated era and does not take into account the diversity in households across America today. As president, Beto will reform survivor benefits to protect same-sex couples and families with multiple breadwinners, because families shouldn’t be punished if they don’t look the way Donald Trump wants them to.
Currently, if only one partner in a couple had earnings and thus earned a Social Security retirement benefit, their widow(er) will receive 100 percent of the benefit. Yet, a couple where both partners had equal earnings—and thus equal retirement benefits—the death of one partner would mean the other partner would see 50 percent of their retirement benefit disappear. This represents a sharp decline in that partner’s living standard and disproportionately affects working women and same-sex couples.
As president, Beto will work to modernize the Social Security survivor benefit system by permitting a surviving spouse to receive 75 percent of the couple’s combined retirement benefit so long as it does not exceed the benefits of an average earner. Beto’s plan would pay for the modernization of survivor benefits and establishment of a caregiver credit by closing a tax loophole that allows wealthy business owners to avoid payroll taxes.