Posts Tagged ‘benefits’

One year after the debt ceiling crisis, Congress and the president again face a series of tough decisions regarding federal spending and deficit reduction. With so much at stake in this debate, we’ll be breaking down the details of the impending across-the-board cuts, also known as sequestration. Check back every Wednesday through October 10 for new posts, and catch up on Budget 101 by reading the lessons from the past few weeks.

The basic premise of the social safety net is that help is available when people are most in need. That’s why Medicaid enrollment expands when we’re in an economic recession — because more people meet the low-income eligibility requirements, which means that more people need assistance obtaining health care. The same thing happens with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. More people qualify for SNAP during recessions because more people struggle to put food on the table due to their lower incomes.

That’s also why one of the first actions Congress took when the economic crisis began was to create a temporary expansion of the unemployment insurance program that would provide additional weeks of benefits. In a normal economy, unemployment insurance — in the form of weekly checks — would be available for up to 26 weeks to people who lost their jobs through no fault of their own. But as the unemployment rate ticked up, lawmakers realized that the need was greater, which meant the social safety net had to adjust to fit the need. So in 2008, they created a program called Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which allows people to receive anywhere from 14 to 47 additional weeks of benefits depending on their state’s unemployment rate. A resident of a state with a higher unemployment rate would be eligible for more weeks of benefits.

Now, more than four years since that first extension, we are still dealing with a chronically high unemployment rate. Moreover, 40 percent of those who are unemployed have been without jobs for 27 weeks or longer, which means that they still need unemployment insurance beyond the initial 26 weeks. And at the same time, our country is facing a series of tax and budget changes that are slated to take effect at the beginning of January 2013 and are likely to impact the day-to-day lives of most Americans. One of the changes is the expiration of the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program. The question, though, is whether lawmakers will once again extend the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program or let it expire.

It’s a politically difficult decision to make because these benefits are real and tangible. In 2010 and 2011, the average weekly unemployment benefit was $300. That check could cover your utility bill, a grocery store trip, or an emergency car repair so you can make it to your next job interview.

In addition, unemployment insurance helps not only the recipient but also our economy as a whole. According to an analysis by the financial research organization Moody’s Analytics, for every dollar spent on unemployment insurance, $1.61 goes back into the U.S. economy, which makes unemployment insurance the most successful form of government stimulus. That’s because, as a Moody’s researcher told NPR, people who receive unemployment benefits tend to spend the money rather than save it, since the point of unemployment insurance is to replace a person’s lost income so she or he can still buy the necessities. Such consumer spending boosts economic growth and demand. You could correctly argue that unemployment insurance creates jobs.

Yet, as our Budget 101 series has shown thus far, these decisions are not so simple. The federal government has been footing the bill for the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program for more than four years, and with much attention focused on reducing the U.S. budget deficit, it’s a tough climate in which to argue that unemployment benefits should be extended further. In truth, these decisions are never simple, but this time, with the expiration of unemployment insurance coming at the same time as many other fiscal decisions, it is even more difficult.

Check back on October 10 for our next Budget 101 post, which will focus on upcoming automatic spending cuts, known as sequestration, and the projected impact of those cuts on women and families, education, and defense spending.

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Members of AAUW’s “Big Teal Machine” lobby Congress to oppose cuts to Social Security.

This Sunday, August 14, marks the 76th anniversary of Social Security. When it began in 1935, Social Security only paid retirement benefits to workers, not their spouses or children. Social Security has evolved to become one of the most successful anti-poverty programs in our nation’s history. It’s a national commitment to care for one another across generations.

Social Security contains many features that make it more valuable to individuals than private insurance, such as guaranteed lifetime benefits, full cost-of-living and inflation adjustments, a progressive benefit formula, spousal and widow benefits, and disability and survivor benefits. It’s particularly important for women’s economic security, as more than half of older women would fall into poverty without Social Security benefits.

Social Security is more than a retirement program: It is also workers’ main source of disability insurance. Social Security is a safety net for disabled Americans, providing benefits to severely disabled adults with “adult child” benefits and aiding Americans who are unable to work. Additionally, Social Security programs are critical for keeping American children out of poverty. The system pays more benefits to children than any other federal program, including welfare, and insures 98 percent of American children against the loss of a parent or caretaker.

Yet Social Security faces challenges. The renewed focus on America’s deficit has prompted many politicians to pledge to “reform” Social Security, which they (incorrectly) blame for the deficit. Other proposals would raise the retirement age, cut benefit levels, or privatize Social Security accounts. Social Security did not cause the federal deficit — in fact, the program is “off budget” — and should not be blamed for it or weakened to address America’s financial problems. In poll after poll, Americans across the political and age spectrum have affirmed that they would rather pay more in taxes than see Social Security benefits cut.

AAUW believes that it is vital to women’s economic security to provide for the long-term solvency of Social Security and to maintain its current guaranteed benefits, and we strongly oppose attempts to cut Social Security. At this year’s AAUW National Convention in Washington, D.C., members of the “Big Teal Machine” lobbied Congress to oppose any cuts to Social Security. You can do that too by visiting AAUW’s Two-Minute Activist and telling Congress that you oppose cutting a critical program relied upon by millions of Americans.

To learn more, read AAUW’s position on Social Security, retirement security, and Social Security privatization.

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Debt ceiling. Government default. Increased revenues versus spending cuts. It’s enough to make you want to ignore the political gridlock dominating Washington these days. However, as tempting as that may be, what happens in our nation’s capital over the next week will have a major impact on our economy and government and will play an important role in the 2012 presidential election. So here’s what you need to know.

Congress and President Obama are fighting over raising the debt ceiling, which is a cap on the amount of money the Treasury Department can borrow to fund the federal government. The debt ceiling is currently set at $14.3 trillion. When Congress votes to raise the debt ceiling (as it has 74 times since 1962), it authorizes the Treasury to borrow the money needed to pay the bills incurred running the federal government. The cap covers federal debt owed to the public (i.e., anyone who buys U.S. bonds) plus debt owed to federal trust funds such as those for Social Security and Medicare.

The Treasury estimates that the United States will run out of funds to pay these bills, i.e., hit the debt ceiling, on August 2. When, or if, that happens, the United States would be unable to pay its bills, and there would be a government default. Despite myriad predictions, no one really knows what a government default would look like, but it wouldn’t be good. At a minimum, a default would hurt market confidence in the United States, affecting U.S. bonds, the strength of the dollar, and the U.S. stock market.

Despite the fast-approaching deadline, leaders in Washington appear unable to come to an agreement on how to solve this problem. Since there is no consensus on a “clean,” or unconditional, lift to the ceiling, Obama and Congress, particularly Republicans in the House of Representatives, are locked in pitched negotiations on the conditions under which the debt ceiling should be raised. The president has stated that any spending cuts must be accompanied by increased revenues, i.e., taxes, particularly on high-income earners, while House Republicans, led by Speaker of the House John Boehner, are insisting on deep spending cuts, such as changing the way Social Security benefits are calculated to reduce the benefits paid to retirees.

No one knows how this debate will end, but rest assured that AAUW will be there to protect the interests of women. Although AAUW recognizes that these are tough budgetary times, balancing the nation’s budget should not come on the backs of vulnerable Americans, including students, women, and working families. Politically motivated cuts to critical government programs would threaten our economy’s ability to recover from recession and volatility, create serious problems for the solvency of Social Security, and very likely force enormous cuts in programs that millions of Americans rely upon, such as welfare, Medicare, and Medicaid. These cuts would hurt ordinary Americans and have a lasting, detrimental impact on America’s economy.

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Interested in an Opportunity for FREE AAUW Membership for Undergraduate Students?

AAUW is hosting two College/University Partnership Webinars on January 25, 2010: one at 1 p.m. EST for college/university representatives and one at 6 p.m. EST for AAUW member leaders. The webinars will provide an overview of AAUW’s college/university partner member program and will highlight the extensive benefits that AAUW offers to students. The webinar for AAUW member leaders will also cover specific strategies for recruiting and retaining c/u partner members.

Students who attend institutions that are AAUW college/university partner members get priority on a number of opportunities for leadership development, education, and project funding. Additionally, they gain access to cutting-edge gender equity research and policy initiatives and receive exclusive member discounts on numerous products, including books from Barnes and Noble, test-preparation materials from The Princeton Review, and so much more! Plus, all undergraduate students at AAUW college/university partner members are immediately eligible to be FREE AAUW e-student affiliates and to receive a FREE, full-year membership after they graduate!

As a graduate student in higher education administration, I understand the importance of resources and services that benefit the college students I interact with on a daily basis. As a future student affairs professional, I can assure you that involvement with AAUW and the college/university partner member program will be the best decision you can make for your institution or an institution in your community.

Throughout the webinar you will hear about student experiences with AAUW programs and learn about key benefits associated with college/university partner membership and, most importantly, you’ll be able to tell us what types of resources would benefit your institutions. You’ll also learn how AAUW is already helping colleges and universities.

Please share the information about this webinar with your colleagues and e-mail khorakiwalaz@aauw.org to RSVP for the webinar. After you RSVP, you will receive specific instructions on how to participate closer to the January 25, 2010, event.

Are there specific resources or benefits that your college/university or one in your community is seeking from AAUW? We would love to hear your feedback!

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