December 20, 2013

Senate Passes Budget Deal

This Tuesday, the Senate voted to end debate on a two-year budget deal and put it up for final passage. On Wednesday, the deal passed the Senate in a 64-36 vote. The bill sets spending levels for 2014 and 2015 and reduces sequester spending cuts by $63 billion over the next two years.

The agreement heeds our calls against cuts to our Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid; however, it missed a key opportunity to close tax loopholes that corporations and wealthy individuals use to escape paying their fair share of taxes, in many cases any taxes at all. Regrettably, this deal makes new federal employees, hired after December 31 of this year, pay more in pension contributions to the tune of 1.3%. The deal also cuts the annual cost-of-living adjustment for military retirees under 62 years old by 1%. The extension of federal unemployment benefits was not included in the budget agreement; therefore, beginning the week of December 28, millions of unemployed Americans who have exhausted their benefits will receive a notice that their benefits will be stopped. More information on what’s in the budget deal here “This budget deal is really a mixed blessing. Congress clears the lowest bar in governing our country by passing it, as it avoids another government shutdown; reduces the sequester spending cuts and doesn’t touch our Social Security and Medicare programs. However, they missed the opportunity to close corporate loopholes which cost us billions each year and perpetuate the growing income inequality in our country. The budget bill doesn’t ask the wealthy and profitable corporations to pay their fair share in taxes and it is partially funded by cuts to federal employees and veterans’ pensions,” said Richard Fiesta, Executive Director of the Alliance for Retired Americans.

The Affordable Care Act is Working for Millions of Americans, Including Seniors

This Tuesday, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released new stats indicating how the Affordable Care Act has lowered prescription drug costs and expanded access to preventive services. Because of the Affordable Care Act, more than 25 million people covered by traditional Medicare received at least one preventive service at no cost between January and November of this year. This news follows last month’s announcement that the health care law saved seniors $8.9 billion on their prescription drugs since the law’s enactment. “Prevention and early detection are very important for our seniors. Some of the deductibles and co-pays do not sound like a lot of money to some, but they did keep mammograms, colonoscopies and other routine tests out of reach for too many seniors on fixed incomes,” said Barbara Easterling, President of the Alliance for Retired Americans.

Monday, a congressional field hearing in Richardson, Texas regarding the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and alleged problems with local navigators made the news. The Texas Alliance for Retired Americans (TARA) submitted a statement and personal stories for the record, in support of the Affordable Care Act. Gene Lantz, TARA President, took aim at congressional naysayers and told a large crowd outside, “It is completely outrageous that certain politicians, for their own political careers, are trying to find chinks in the armor, trying to find some way to turn us all back to the tender mercies of American insurance companies.” TARA member and activistMorris Fried shared his gratitude that early provisions of the new health care law allowed his daughter to stay on his health insurance plan during her early 20’s. He said, “My daughter will turn twenty-six in April and therefore the full ACA sign-up comes just in time to enable her to obtain coverage on her own, starting then, with no regard to any preexisting conditions. She signed up with no problems and we are thankful for this program.” Local news reporting here: Other reporting and summary here:

Happy Holidays from the Alliance

2013 was abuzz with activity. We linked arms on July 2nd across the entire country, protesting the chained CPI benefit cut to Social Security and veterans’ programs. On Veterans Day, we teamed up with veterans and a slew of allied organizations against the harmful chained CPI benefit cut. We have a lot to be proud of. You can view a short video highlighting this year’s events here

In our final edition of Friday Alert until January 10, we would like to extend our warmest wishes for the holiday season and thank you for your outstanding activism in 2013. This year, we once again faced strong threats to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. But thanks to the powerful voice of activists across the country, seniors were spared from terribly unjust and painful cuts to these programs in a final budget deal.

Our work is not done. The attack on workers has left wages stagnant and union membership declining – now they’re going after our retirement. Pensions and retirement security are most certainly under attack. Politicians, corporations, and even the courts are eroding our retirement benefits, health care and promised benefits that workers paid into throughout their working years. We’re seeing it in Detroit, in states advancing legislation to get rid of good pension plans that public employees bargained for in good faith, and in major corporations transferring all the responsibility for a safe retirement onto employees and encouraging them to gamble their retirement in the stock market. Since we refuse to be the last generation to retire, we will redouble our efforts in 2014!

As we head into the 2014 elections, we will need to be as educated and active as we can to protect and strengthen all that we have worked for. Thank you for all you do to help your fellow retirees and the generations that will come after us. We hope to see you in Las Vegas April 28 – May 1 for our convention and look forward to working with you in 2014!

Barbara J. Easterling        Ruben J. Burks                    Richard J. Fiesta

President                           Secretary Treasurer           Executive Director

Editor’s note: the Friday Alert will resume its normal schedule on January 10, 2014.

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