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Baby Boomers and Unemployment Straining Disability Funds

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By Jazelle Hunt
Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Another partisan battle is brewing on Capitol Hill as Social Security in general, and disability insurance in particular, nears a budget squeeze.

“Any of us could suffer an accident or illness we’re not expecting,” said Rebecca Vallas, associate director of Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. The Center hosted a press conference last week to release a reported she co-authored titled, “Social Security Disability Insurance: A Bedrock of Security for American Workers.”

Vallas explained, “We have this amazing program there for us if that happened. Very few people have enough savings to deal with that, and without [disability insurance] most of us would fall into poverty.”

Two separate funds feed the two types of social insurance: Old Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI), and Disability Insurance (DI). Collectively they’re called OASDI, or Social Security. Income taxes, and interest from bonds bought with these taxes, anchor these trust funds.

Disability Insurance benefits Americans who cannot earn a living because of  physical or mental injuries, illnesses, or disabilities, as well as their dependents, spouses, and caregivers. For many, it is the difference between getting by and abject poverty.

Close to 2 million African Americans are receiving DI benefits. The Social Security Administration reports that as of December 2010, 28 percent of African American recipients were under the poverty line. Without disability insurance, that figure would rise to 57 percent.

Approximately 31 percent of Black disability recipients also receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) checks, which provides additional assistance for low-income families of Americans with disabilities.

DI also serves nearly 2 million children, 1 million veterans, 4.5 million women, and 154,000 spouses of Americans with disabilities.

But the system is poised to be stretched beyond capacity as millions of Baby Boomers enter high-disability and retirement years. In addition to this population bubble of aging workers, there’s the fact that women have entered the workforce and become eligible for benefits, on par with men. Additionally, the recession has resulted in lower taxes from fewer workers who have to support a sizable population of aging beneficiaries.

With the convergence of these factors, Social Security funds are already plateauing and in danger of declining into inadequacy.

A brief from the National Academy of Social Insurance explains, “At some point in 2016, the DI trust fund’s reserves would be depleted and current taxes coming into the trust fund would not be enough to pay all benefits owed to disabled workers and their families. Funds would be sufficient to pay only about 80 percent of scheduled amounts.”

And the Social Security Administration reached a similar conclusion, reporting that “the Trustees estimate that [both] trust fund reserves will be exhausted by 2033”  –  and that’s if steps are taken to ease the crunch now. “At that point, payroll taxes and other income will flow into the fund but will be sufficient to pay only about 75 percent of program costs.”

Every year since 2010, the DI fund has paid out more than it collected in taxes and has had to rely on its reserve funds (from past surpluses) to pay beneficiaries on time and in full.

Some elected representatives believe spending on these programs takes too big a chunk of the federal budget. Indeed, Social Security and Medicare accounted for 38 percent of federal spending in 2012, according to Social Security data. From 2012 to 2013, OASDI paid out $826 billion to 53.6 million beneficiaries. Even so,, OASDI has always been less than 5 percent of national GDP.

Disability insurance in particular has become a target for cuts to the program. The “Mack Penny Plan” from Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-Fla.), for example –  which proposes cutting one penny of every federal dollar spent for the next six years –  would ultimately cut more than $1 trillion from social security through 2022, according to nonpartisan fact-checking group, Politifact.

“Opponents of Social Security would praise ‘good Social Security,’ which is the retirement trust fund their grandmothers get, and attack ‘bad social security’—that’s disability insurance,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), keynoting the Center for American Progress event. Senator Brown serves as chairman of the Social Security, Pensions, and Family Policy Subcommittee of the Senate Finance Committee.

“Many claim to sympathize with low-income workers, but then discuss beneficiaries as lazy, looking for a hand-out, or looking to game the system. That simply isn’t true.”

Congress is already making cuts amidst the political sparring.

Since 2010, the Social Security Administration has closed 64 field offices and 533 temporary mobile offices, and has downsized around 11,000 employees and counting in the last three years, according to the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging. There’s also a huge backlog in disability applications; as of last year, claimants could expect a yearlong wait.

Additionally, there’s a steady flow of misinformation in the political discourse, which confuses Americans on the facts.

Rep. Todd Young (R-Ind.), for example, told a constituent that “nearly 70 percent of all federal spending will go towards Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid” this year, according to Politifact. In 2011, House Speaker John Boehner told media that the trust funds were “facing imminent bankruptcy.”

Historically, whenever the system faced tough times, there has been a simple fix.

Since the funds are structured in such a way that they can neither borrow money, nor go into default, OASDI woes have been balanced through tax reallocation. With this solution, Congress tweaks the distribution of the program’s 6.2 percent payroll tax contributions between the two trust funds.

Last year, for example. 5.3 percent went toward OASI and 0.9 percent toward DI—this year the split is 4.8 and 1.4 percent, respectively, according to the Center for American Progress.

The American public is usually on board for this solution. In a National Academy of Social Insurance survey of 2,000 Americans, for example, 82 percent of respondents (a majority that held steady across party affiliation) believe Social Security programs should be preserved even if it means increasing current taxes.

Congress has voted for OASDI reallocation 11 times since the program’s inception; it is considered a routine, bipartisan Congressional procedure. But if the current rhetoric and the partisan stalemate that resulted in a 16-day government shutdown last year is any indication, the stopgap may not come so easily.

All of this has taken its toll on the American public. In the aforementioned NASI survey, 57 percent of respondents say they have little faith in the future of the program.

“There’s such a huge contrast between what the American people say and think and what people say in the media,” says T.J. Sutcliffe, director of Income and Housing Policy at The Arc of the United States, a disabled advocacy organization. “The controversy doesn’t seem to be there when you talk to average Americans.”

NAACP, CBC Lament High Rate of Black Unemployment

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By James Wright
Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer

While the nation appears to be in an economic recovery, leaders of the NAACP and the Congressional Black Caucus bemoan the high number of unemployed blacks.

The Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics report the national unemployment rate decreased to 6.1 percent in June; however, the unemployment rate for blacks was 10.9 percent, more than double that of Asians and whites.

Dedrick Asante-Muhammad Sr., director of the NAACP’s economic department, said increasing job opportunities for public sector jobs is the key to higher wages for more Americans, particularly blacks.

“The 288,000 jobs added this month indicates that the economy overall is beginning to recover,” he said. “However, black unemployment continues to improve at a much slower pace as public-sector employment lags, in large part due to austerity budgeting. Public workers are a key element of the middle-class economy.”

Rep. Marcia Fudge, Ohio Democrat and caucus chairman, said her organization will continue to advocate for strong job training programs and increased job opportunities.

“The CBC remains committed to ensuring the decreasing employment rate reflects a diversity of workers in jobs with incomes that allow them to provide for their families,” Fudge said. “The benefits of a strengthening economy should be felt by all Americans. No one should be left behind.”

Report Reveals Characteristics of Uninsured Minorities

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By Stacy M. Brown
Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer

Randy Wheeling, Curtis Washington and Frankie Rossi each signed up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

For Wheeling, a cable technician who lives in Northeast, signing up meant that he could finally breathe easier when making appointments with a primary care physician.

“The co-pay was $50, it’s now $20, and I just couldn’t see going unless there was something really wrong,” said Wheeling, 42.

Washington, an automobile mechanic who also lives in Northeast, said his new insurance represents the first time that he isn’t being covered by his spouse or parents. “It’s a little bit of freedom,” said the 29 year old.

Rossi, who lives in Northwest, said the new policy he received by signing up through the federal health care exchange, provided him with a fresh perspective.

“It gives me hope that someone in a position of power does care about minorities,” said Rossi, 37.

Despite the positive experiences of the three men and the advances made by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), African-Americans and Latinos still represent the largest portion of the country’s uninsured population.

A June 30 report by the Office of Minority Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Rockville, Maryland, examined the characteristics of uninsured adult males by race and ethnicity, using the most recent data from the 2012 American Community Survey.

The report revealed that, among uninsured adult males ages 19-34, Latino and African-American males counted among the highest group without health care.

Dr. J. Nadine Gracia, the deputy assistant secretary for Minority Health and the director of the Office of Minority Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said improvements have been realized in coverage for minorities.

“The Affordable Care Act is one of the most significant laws to help reduce disparities in health and access to care. During the first historic open enrollment period, minority men, many who may have previously been locked out of the health insurance market because of a pre-existing condition or  simply because of its unaffordability, were able to obtain health care coverage and will now have the security that health insurance provides,” Gracia said.

“Thanks to the ACA, millions of minorities are seeing the benefits and are now able to access preventive services at no additional cost. Furthermore, the ACA is addressing disparities among minority communities by increasing the number of community health centers and the services they offer which serve as safety nets for the most vulnerable and underserved, where nearly two out of three patients served in community health centers are racial and ethnic minorities,” she said.

The U.S. has one of the most expensive health care systems in the world, yet the life expectancy and infant mortality rates are often middle of the road at best, said Dr. Jean J.E. Bonhomme, founder of the National Black Men’s Health Network based in Atlanta.

While data shows disparities among uninsured males, progress has been made in increasing access to health care coverage, officials said.

Over the course of the first Health Insurance Marketplace enrollment period, more than 8 million people signed up as part of the ACA.

New Legislation for Caribbean Immigrants ID Cards

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Special to the NNPA from the New York Carib News

CMC – New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has signed legislation to create a municipal identification card for Caribbean and other immigrants living in the city, including undocumented persons.

“Even for those who already have IDs, we’re going to make sure that this card brings a lot to the equation, a lot of benefits that will go with it,” said deBlasio, whose wife, Chirlane, traces her roots to Barbados.

“But for those who don’t have ID, it’s going to be crucial,” he said when signing the on to the new law Thursday.

Although de Blasio originally wanted the ID card law to roll out before the end of the year, it’s now scheduled to launch in January, the New York Daily News reported.

The mayor assured undocumented Caribbean applicants for the new ID card that they will not be asked about their immigration status.

“We want all New Yorkers to feel very comfortable working with the police,” deBlasio said. “We want them to be very able to identify themselves to the police and do it in an atmosphere of safety.

“This is going to play a crucial role in deepening the relationship between police and community, including a lot of our immigrant communities,” he added.

City Councilmen Carlos Menchaca and Daniel Dromm, who sponsored the measure, said the bill would allow a large section of the city’s marginalized populations to receive benefits and access to simple services like opening a bank account or renting an apartment.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, the first Puerto Rican-born elected official to hold the position in New York City, described the bill as ‘historic’.

“Today, we’re living up to our highest ideals, and today we’re saying that no one should be left out,” she said.

Officials said the ID card will be free of cost during the first year, adding that there will be walk-in enrollment centers, along with online applications.

Mugabe Orders Caucasian Farmers to Evacuate Zimbabwe Again

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By W.A.T.E.R. 17
Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News

Echoing similar sentiments from a decade ago, on July 2, Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe demanded that the remaining European “landowners” rightfully return “their property” to his nation’s indigenous inhabitants.

Implementing one of the harshest policies in his country’s land reform movement, Mugabe addressed farmers in Mhangura, a small mining town about 120 miles north of its capital Harare.

“I have been given a list of 35 white farmers in Mashonaland West alone and in just a few districts that have been audited. We say no to whites owning our land and they should go,” Mugabe told the crowd. “They can own companies and apartments … but not the soil. It is ours, and that message should ring loud and clear in Britain and the United States.”

Mugabe suggested that the several hundred remaining Caucasian colonizing farmers should leave. He also refused to allow Caucasian families renting farms from African owners to stay, which is what some had been doing since being violently chased away and having their farms seized a decade ago.

“There are white farmers who are still on the land and have the protection of some cabinet ministers and politicians as well as traditional leaders … that should never happen,” he stated. “They [Caucasians] were living like kings and queens on our land, and we chucked them out. Now we want all of it.”

Mugabe, 90, has governed Zimbabwe since its independence in 1980. He came to power on the heels of the Lancaster House Agreement, which established that he couldn’t make any land reform changes for a decade. After numerous attempts to redistribute land back to Africans, in 2000, the Zimbabwe government instituted the Fast-Track Land Reform Program, which violently forced Caucasian farmers off “their lands” without compensation.

The government reportedly seized 110,000 square kilometers of land, and millions of Black farmers were said to have become unemployed. By 2005, the Parliament agreed to nationalize all farmland, silencing farmers who wanted to contest the land grab in court.

A decade and a half ago, Mugabe, a former guerrilla leader, embarked on a revolutionary nationwide campaign for land reacquisition, where his supporters forced thousands of Caucasian commercial farmers to turn over their territory under a so-called “indigenization” land reform policy.

Caucasians began heavily populating Zimbabwe in the 1890s. The Land Apportionment Act of 1930 divided the lands by ethnicities (Shona, Ndebele, etc.). While traditionally Africans had shared the lands communally, the Caucasians’ presence offset nature’s balance.

The Caucasian population flourished while the native inhabitants were relocated to low rainfall areas, forcing 99 percent of the population onto 25 percent of the land. By 1979, Caucasians only made up about 5 percent of the population, with only 4,500 farmers, yet they owned 70 percent of the fertile land.

Mugabe was reelected last summer to his fifth consecutive term with 61 percent of the vote while outing his own associates who make lucrative profits by owning farmland and renting it to Caucasians. Mugabe characterized this practice as unpatriotic under his notions of indigenous Black African nationalism. The president’s Zanu-PF party also gained a parliamentary majority of more than two-thirds, winning 160 of the 210 seats.

Following this presentation, the 90-year-old leader collapsed. It was reported that he was immediately rushed back to Harare for evaluation. Rumors about Mugabe’s health have circulated for some time, but as he is advancing in age, speculation has increased over the years.

Despite official denials, it is widely believed that Mugabe is being treated for prostate cancer.

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