Congressman Matt Cartwright

Representing the 17th District of Pennsylvania
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Seniors Issues

Maintaining the financial security and health of our nation’s seniors is at the forefront of my policies.  Seniors are the foundation of our communities and have worked hard all their lives to build our nation. Unfortunately, like so many Americans, they struggle with income insecurity and high health care costs.  Social Security and Medicare are designed to help our citizens as they enter retirement, and we must never neglect our responsibility to keep these programs current and solvent.

Keeping Social Security a Reliable Public System of Shared Commitment

Established in 1935 during the Great Depression as an anti-poverty program for senior citizens and disabled Americans, Social Security is an American success story.    It has lifted millions of senior citizens out of poverty and provided financial security for widowed and divorced spouses, children, and persons with disabilities.   Forty years ago, more than one third of all seniors lived in poverty.  Today, thanks in large part to Social Security, that number stands at less than 11%.

Social Security has never contributed a penny to the deficit and in fact is prohibited by law from doing so.   The program has built up a substantial surplus that is expected to reach a peak of $3.7 trillion in 2022.  This surplus is invested in government bonds backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government.  When President Franklin D.  Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law he stated “It is, in short, a law that will take care of human needs and at the same time provide for the United States an economic structure of vastly greater soundness.”  As an admirer of President Roosevelt, I am fighting to ensure that Social Security provides these benefits for not only our nation’s grandparents, but their grandchildren as well.  To help achieve this goal, I oppose privatizing the benefits of Social Security or taking risks with its trust fund.  As Americans, we created an enduring promise to America’s seniors through the creation of Social Security, and it is a promise that must be preserved and protected.

Opposing Any Lowering of Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs) / Opposing “Chained CPI”

Our nation’s seniors rely on Social Security to help them make ends meet.   They have earned this economic security by paying into it over the course of their lives.   Part of the promise our country makes to those on Social Security is that the benefits they have earned will keep up with inflation.

The Social Security Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) is set annually according to a formula dating to 1975.  The COLA is based on the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W).   It is calculated by comparing the CPI-W from the third quarter of the current year to the prior year.   Over the past decade, these cost of living adjustments have averaged a mere 3 percent per year.   This adjustment rate simply does not reflect the inflation experienced by older Americans.   For example, Americans 65 and older spend more than twice as much of their total spending on health care costs, which have consistently risen more rapidly than inflation.

Recently, some have suggested changing the way the COLA is calculated by using what is called the chained CPI measurement.   Chained CPI is a measure of inflation created by the Bureau of Labor Statistics touted as a more accurate way to factor rises in the cost-of-living into, among other things, social security benefits and the tax code.   In April 2014, President Obama unveiled his fiscal year 2014 budget which included a chained CPI provision.

I oppose the use of chained CPI and have supported several measures opposing it, including a letter to President Obama asking that he re-consider his position regarding chained CPI.    Chained CPI doesn't rise as quickly as the measure of inflation that the government uses now, therefore if the government switched to Chained CPI to calculate Social Security benefits, benefits would increase more slowly over time.   Furthermore, chained CPI rises slower than the measure of inflation that the government currently uses by making different assumptions about how people spend money.   Chained CPI hinges on the idea that when the price of one good rises, people are more likely to buy a similar, cheaper good.

Using chained CPI to determine annual COLA would reduce Social Security outlays by an estimated initial $112 billion.  According to Social Security’s Chief Actuary, 97% of these cuts will come from current or near retirees.  I am concerned chained CPI would result in reduced Social Security benefits and do not support placing these burdens on Americans that have worked hard to earn their Social Security benefits.

Strengthening Medicare / Supporting the Affordable Care Act / Opposing Premium-Subsidy Voucher Schemes

For more than 40 years, Medicare has offered critical health and financial stability for senior citizens, people with disabilities, and those with end-stage renal disease.  An earned benefit, Medicare ensures that seniors will get the health coverage they worked a lifetime for.  Medicare has provided coverage for at least 49 million individuals this year, and in Pennsylvania alone, over 2.3 million seniors rely on Medicare.   

Seniors and older Americans age 55 to 64 face unique and often daunting challenges in finding affordable, high-quality health care.   The Affordable Care Act (ACA), a law which I support, works to strengthen Medicare and is making prescription coverage for seniors more affordable.

The ACA gradually closes the Medicare “donut hole,” which lowers out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs.  More than 6.6 million seniors in the “donut hole” have already saved over $7 billion on their prescription drugs, or an average savings of $1,061 per senior.  This is tremendously helpful to seniors, and may actually reduce the need for some people to purchase Medicare Advantage coverage.

Additionally, by reducing waste, fraud and slowing the cost growth in health care, the ACA will help extend the solvency of Medicare for years to come.

I will always fight to ensure that those who earned the benefits of Medicare do not see any reduction in their benefits and has supported several measures aimed at achieving that goal, including a letter to President Obama opposing any budget compromise which involved proposed cuts to Medicare benefits by some in Congress.  I also oppose any effort to privatize Medicare or to turn the program into a premium-subsidy voucher, which would end traditional Medicare and turn seniors out into the private market or health coverage with no guarantees that their costs would not skyrocket.  Our budgetary choices reflect our values and priorities.  When seniors earn an average of $19,000 a year while millionaires receive an annual average of $140,000 in tax breaks from the government, cutting Medicare benefits in any form does not properly prioritize the welfare of our seniors.

See also Senior Citizens' Resources.

More on Seniors Issues

Feb 3, 2017 Press Release

Washington, DC – Today, Congressman Matt Cartwright re-introduced the bipartisan Save Access to a Valuable Investment Needed to Generate Savings (SAVINGS) Act. This bill would prohibit the Department of Treasury from discontinuing the Tax-Time Savings Bond Program unless a universally accessible non-electronic alternative was implemented.

Oct 28, 2015 Press Release

Washington, DC – Today, U.S. Representatives Matt Cartwright and Gerry Connolly introduced the bipartisan Annuity Safety and Security Under Reasonable Enforcement (ASSURE) Act, with the support of 24 colleagues. 

The legislation aims to protect federal workers, military retirees, and postal retirees by expanding Truth in Lending Act disclosure provisions to any situation where a federal or military pension is used as consideration for an “advance.”  The bill also caps the interest rate on such an “advance” at prime plus six percent. 

Jun 23, 2015 Press Release

Scranton, PA – Today, U.S. Representative Matt Cartwright announced that representatives from his Scranton district office will host various senior constituent service seminars throughout Lackawanna and Luzerne Counties.

The seminars will provide seniors with the opportunity to learn about various seniors programs such as Social Security, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and Medicare.  Seniors will also have the opportunity to speak with Constituent Service Representatives from Rep. Cartwright’s office.

Jun 12, 2015 Press Release

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Representative Matt Cartwright announced the re-introduction of the Help Extend Auditory Relief (HEAR) Act with the support of 10 members of Congress.  Cartwright first introduced the HEAR Act in 2013.

Mar 24, 2015 Press Release

Washington, DC – Today U.S. Representatives Matt Cartwright (PA-17) and Steve Cohen (TN-9) re-introduced the Protecting Consumers from Unreasonable Credit Rates Act, legislation that would enact a cap on reform fees and rates associated with consumer credit products, including short-term and long-term payday loans and car title loans. 

U.S. Senate Assistant Minority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced companion legislation in the Senate.

Mar 18, 2015 Press Release

Washington, DC – Today, U.S. Representative Matt Cartwright (PA-17) joined Congressman John B. Larson (CT-01), a member of the Ways & Means Subcommittee on Social Security, in introducing the ‘Social Security 2100 Act’.  The measure stands to cut taxes for Social Security recipients, provide a benefit bump for current and future beneficiaries, and keep the system strong for generations to come.

Nov 17, 2014 Press Release

Washington – Last week U.S. Representatives Matt Cartwright (PA-17), Blake Farenthold (TX-27), and Alcee Hastings (FL-20) introduced the bipartisan Veterans Care Financial Protection Act of 2014.  The legislation would direct the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to work with other federal agencies and states to address a myriad of scams that target low-income, older veterans.  U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren (MA) and Marco Rubio (FL) first introduced the legislation in the Senate.

Oct 9, 2014 Press Release

Washington – Last month, U.S. Representative Matt Cartwright introduced the Community Integration Act, H.R. 5547, legislation that would provide Medicaid beneficiaries with disabilities greater access to home and community based services.  U.S. Senator and HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) previously introduced the legislation in the Senate.

Jun 19, 2014 Press Release

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Representatives Matt Cartwright (PA-17) and Rosa DeLauro (CT-03) introduced the Vegetables Are Really Important Eating Tools for You (VARIETY) Act in order to expand the Healthy Incentives Pilot (HIP) to the entirety of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). 

May 1, 2014 Press Release

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright introduced the bipartisan Skills Gap Strategy Act of 2014, with the support of Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (PA-8).  The legislation would require the Department of Labor (DOL) to develop a strategy report that provides recommendations to address the national skills gap – defined as the difference between the current supply of labor and skills of the workforce and that which is desired by employers.   Senators Joe Donnelly (IN) and Dean Heller (NV) first introduced the bill in the U.S. Senate.