It’s a good time to discuss “entitlements.” The Republicans in the US House just tried and failed to pass a budget act cutting Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid to pay for their 2017 tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations. Democrats believe in both fiscal responsibility and being our brother’s keeper. It’s a matter of setting priorities.
An “entitlement” is a government program that by law guarantees benefits to specific people. Federal entitlement programs include Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, most Veterans Administration programs, federal employee and military retirement plans, unemployment compensation, SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as “food stamps”), and agricultural price supports.
Cash assistance for the poor, sometimes called “welfare,” is provided through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. It is NOT an entitlement program because no law guarantees benefits to those who qualify.
How did these programs come about? Federal government assistance began in the 1930s after the Great Depression threw millions of Americans into unemployment. Farmers went bankrupt and lost their farms while people in cities had no food.
President Franklin Roosevelt, a Democrat, passed the New Deal to assist the unemployed, elderly, and farmers. It included Social Security to lift the elderly out of poverty. President Lyndon Johnson built on this foundation with his Great Society initiatives, including Medicare and Medicaid to provide healthcare to the elderly and disabled adults and children. Nutrition assistance programs began during the Great Depression and were revived by President Johnson in the 1960s.
Many of us benefit from these programs:
- 45 million receive Social Security; 20% are disabled workers (NASI, June 2017)
- 58.5 million receive Medicare (CMS, 2017)
- 72.3 million receive Medicaid; 62% are elderly, disabled, or children (CMS, 2017)
- 42 million receive SNAP. In Texas, 4 million; 80% children, 26% elderly and disabled, 54% working families (CBPP, 2017)
Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid account for about 50% of the federal budget, with SNAP at less than 1% (CBPP, 2017).
Last week, US House Republicans, including District 21 Rep. Lamar Smith, proposed slashing Social Security and Medicare benefits to address the $1.5 trillion deficit caused by their tax cut. Democrats embrace these programs and find solutions. For example, when Medicare was facing a funding crisis with the wave of baby boomers reaching retirement age, the Affordable Care Act shored up funding through a 0.9% tax on people earning more than $200,000/year.
Social Security is also facing funding challenges. Did you know that payroll taxes, including contributions to Social Security, are not collected on earnings above $128,400/year? Democrats have introduced the Social Security 2100 Act, which requires that everyone pay their fair share. This enables Social Security to raise benefits and ensures solvency for our children and grandchildren, all without raising taxes or adding to the deficit.
Americans deserve real solutions from honest, bipartisan negotiations. Continued cover ups of failed Republican policies and vilification of retirees who receive benefits is counterproductive. Join us in supporting Democratic Party initiatives that provide real solutions for Americans.