Bush plan would trim Social Security survivor benefits | VailDaily.com

Bush plan would trim Social Security survivor benefits

WASHINGTON – President Bush’s budget calls for elimination of a $255 lump-sum death payment that has been part of Social Security for more than 50 years and urges Congress to cut off monthly survivor benefits to 16- and 17-year-old high school dropouts.If approved, the two proposals would save a combined $3.4 billion over the next decade, according to administration estimates.Any attempt to reduce Social Security benefits – no matter how small – could face intense opposition in Congress in an election year.”There they go again,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat who chairs his party’s campaign committee, said Tuesday of the administration. “They can’t resist trying to cut Social Security and to cut a survivor’s, a widow or widower’s benefits; it just shows how warped the priorities are in this budget.”House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi agreed. “The president’s budget continues to reflect the Republican agenda of cutting guaranteed Social Security benefits that workers have earned,” she said.Aides to Rep. Bill Thomas of California and Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the Republican chairmen with jurisdiction over Social Security, did not immediately return calls for comment.Mark Lassiter, a spokesman at the Social Security Administration, said the one-time $255 benefit is paid in the deaths of some Social Security recipients but not all, making it an administrative burden for the agency.”It bears no relation to what a person’s funeral expenses are or to any of workers’ earnings levels,” he said. “We believe that eliminating it is not going to cause an appreciable financial hardship to a survivor.”Lassiter said the benefit is paid in cases in which a surviving spouse was living with the deceased at the time of his or her death. It is also available in some cases for a surviving spouse who lived apart and for some surviving children.Administration officials said the payment began as a burial benefit in 1939, to assist families with funeral expenses. The amount was set at $255 in 1952 and until 1981, the payment was made directly to funeral homes, they said.The second change Bush proposed would terminate monthly survivor benefits for 16- and 17-year-olds who do not attend school full time. Current law requires 18-year-olds to remain in school to receive their benefits. Survivor benefits are paid in cases in which a parent has died.Scott Milburn, a spokesman at the administration’s Office of Management and Budget, said, “Children who have lost a parent need every assistance and encouragement we can provide, and everything the federal government can do to encourage them to stay in school and get an education makes it that much more likely that they can succeed.”Linking benefits to school attendance provides that encouragement and is, in fact, currently the rule for 19-year-olds. We think more children can be helped by lowering that age to 16.”Bush’s budget also includes a proposal to change the calculation made for Social Security disability payments for people who also receive worker compensation benefits.In addition, it calls for the Social Security Administration to implement a new system to obtain accurate information about the state and local pensions paid to retirees who also qualify for federal retirement benefits.Together, the proposals relating to disability payments and state and local retirees would save an estimated $2.8 billion over the next decade, according to administration estimates.Unlike a year ago, Social Security did not figure prominently in Bush’s legislative agenda. Then, fresh off a re-election campaign, he urged lawmakers to overhaul the program to create personal savings accounts while cutting back on promised future benefits for workers who are younger than 55.Democrats rallied in opposition, and Republicans shrank from the political challenge of remaking a program that provides benefits to millions of elderly voters.The budget the president submitted to lawmakers this week renews his call for the changes. This time, there is no evidence he intends to push for their enactment. de/

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