WASHINGTON, D.C. – The top Republican on the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security Tom Reed (R-NY) delivered the following opening statement at a Subcommittee Hearing on The Impact of COVID-19 on Social Security and its Beneficiaries.
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Remarks as prepared for delivery:
“Thank you, Chairman Larson for holding today’s hearing.
“Before I give my opening statement, I would like to take a moment to say a few words about our friend, Chairman Sam Johnson, who passed away in May. Chairman Johnson was a true patriot, whose love of country lead to a long career of public service – first in the United States Airforce, the Texas legislature, and for 27 years in the House of Representatives. While many things have been said about his life, I wanted to take a moment and acknowledge his legacy as the long-standing Republican leader of this Subcommittee.
“Chairman Johnson cared deeply about Social Security. Sam served on the Ways and Means Committee for 24 years – and always on the Social Security Subcommittee. As the most senior Republican member of the Committee, he had his choice of Subcommittees to lead. He chose to lead the Social Security Subcommittee as the top Republican for 8 years.
“In his years on the Subcommittee, Chairman Johnson worked to strengthen Social Security for future generations while also holding the Social Security Administration accountable to provide the service Americans rightfully expect and deserve. He wasn’t afraid to ask tough questions or put in the work to make commonsense changes when necessary. His leadership resulted in important changes – the elimination of the retirement earnings test for certain seniors, removal of Social Security numbers from Medicare cards, and much-needed reforms to the representative payee program.
“I am glad I had a chance to know and serve alongside Sam. He was truly one of the great American heroes and our country is better off thanks to his service. My thoughts and prayers continue to be with his daughters Beverly and Gini, and all of his family.
“Now, we’ll turn to today’s hearing on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Social Security and its beneficiaries. We agree this is an important topic. It is why we wrote to you, Mr. Chairman, earlier this spring and called for this hearing. It is increasingly apparent the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic will be severe. Given Social Security’s financial challenges when our economy was strong, we need to understand how this pandemic will further affect Social Security.
“We know about the health risk. Since the virus hit our shores, we have known that our parents and grandparents were particularly at risk. In my home state of New York, Governor Cuomo enacted a series of disastrous policies that directly lead to the deaths of thousands of our state’s seniors.
“But we cannot forget that COVID-19 is also an economic crisis. It is clear that COVID-19 will have some effect on Social Security. With many Americans unemployed due to mass shutdowns and workers taking pay cuts as their employers struggle to keep their business going, Social Security’s payroll revenue will be lower than expected in 2020.
“I look forward to hearing more from our panel about what we can do to help our parents and grandparents and ensure that Social Security is strong for generations to come.
“Some have raised concerns that because of how Social Security benefits are calculated, people born in 1960 might be more affected by COVID-19’s impact on Social Security than other age groups. This is an important issue and one we should examine closely.
“What we don’t know, however, is the full extent of the problem.
“The good news is, we have time to work together and get this right. The data won’t be available until spring 2021 at the earliest. No one will have their benefits affected until February 2022. Let me repeat that — no one will have their benefits affected until February 2022. That’s 18 months from now.
“So let’s put ourselves on the clock and start working together. I know I am committed to working with you, Mr. Chairman, and all Members of this Subcommittee to take a close look at this issue and make sure we get it right. As I’ve said before, Social Security reform will only be successful if it is done in a bipartisan fashion.
“What our parents and grandparents don’t need right now, however, is rash, partisan policies or devastating tax increases. That will get us nowhere and hurt those most vulnerable. Our country, and the working families of this nation, deserve better.
“If there is a problem, we want to work with you to solve it. So let’s get back to collaborating, coordinating, and communicating with one another to determine what the scope of the issue is and what appropriate measures should be taken. As we do so, we should keep the following in mind:
“First — the most important thing we can do right now is to focus on mitigating this virus, safely reopening our communities, and getting our economy back on track. Providing Americans with the opportunity to safely return to their jobs will have the greatest impact right now on the strength of the Social Security and this country’s economic wellbeing. While economic growth alone won’t solve Social Security’s financing challenges, it must be the basis of any plan.
“Second – the foundational principles of rewarding work and protecting the most vulnerable should continue to underpin our work on Social Security. As it has in the past, the LEAP framework can and should serve as the checklist we ask ourselves when considering a given reform.
“Finally — there are several other proposals members of this committee have outlined that could have an immediate positive impact on our workforce and our parents and grandparents. For example, Jackie Walorski, my friend on this Committee from Indiana, introduced legislation that would provide seniors who want or need to work relief from being penalized by Social Security just because they earn above a certain amount. Now more than ever, we should focus on solutions that reward work and support individual’s financial security. Penalizing entrepreneurial seniors is not only unproductive – it’s harmful and unfair.
“Working together, I believe we can make similar progress for our seniors and individuals with disabilities by strengthening and improving Social Security. That will only happen if we commit to rolling up our sleeves, reviewing the data as it becomes available, working together, and tackling the complex issues before us.
“And with that, I yield back.”