NYSUT is keeping up the fight to ensure that the benefits retirees enjoy today remain secure for generations of workers to come.
"Halting attacks on Social Security and Medicare is high on our agenda," said Kathleen Donahue, NYSUT vice president, who oversees retiree services for the union.
"Efforts to reduce the federal deficit on the backs of retirees, by 'voucherizing' Medicare and cutting Social Security and other benefit programs, cannot be tolerated," she said.
A federal proposal to use a chained Consumer Price Index (CPI) to determine monthly Social Security payments must be stopped, union leaders said.
Chained CPI would damage federal benefit programs — including Social Security, Medicare and veterans' retirement benefits — by changing the formula used to calculate Cost-of-Living Allowances, payment rates and thresholds for means testing that determine when a person is eligible for benefits, explained Donahue.
"Our goal is to have our members, and indeed everyone, live with decency, respect and security. We need to make sure people know that we are not going to step back and let anyone take it away from us," said NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta, who oversees the union's legislative efforts.
Since the chained CPI calculation doesn't account for the increased amounts retirees spend on health care — a particular problem for the oldest retirees and the disabled — average retirees would see a benefit cut of about $500 annually after 10 years and $1,000 annually after 20 years.
"We want to be assured that the Social Security benefits retirees earned throughout their careers stay secure in their retirement," said Donahue.
NYSUT is working closely with the Alliance for Retired Americans (ARA) and the Medicare Rights Center to highlight the importance of keeping these safety nets strong.
In July, ARA members, bolstered by other organizations, demonstrated throughout the country to underscore the dangers of chained CPI.
Efforts to privatize Medicare also are ongoing. Included in the U.S. House of Representatives' 2014 Budget Resolution is a measure to convert Medicare to a voucher program. Although neither President Obama nor the U.S. Senate support the plan, the threat is real.
NYSUT is also making sure members know their health care options under Medicare. Frances Hilliard, At-Large Director of Retiree Council 39, is among a group of NYSUT retirees who are SOS — Seniors Out Speaking — volunteers for the Medicare Rights Center, a program coordinated by NYSUT retiree Jay Broad of RC 18.
Volunteers lead seminars on a range of Medicare topics. "There is a great need among seniors for unbiased, consumer-friendly information and support concerning Medicare and related health insurance coverage," said Hilliard.
Donahue encourages members to stay informed about new developments on the Medicare front.
A 2013 Medicare Trustees Report released in June found that, owing to the Affordable Care Act, Medicare is solvent through 2026 — two years later than reported last year.
"The findings reinforce what we already know: There is no justification for cutting benefits to older adults and people with disabilities," Donahue said.
To speak out against the chained CPI, visit the NYSUT Member Action Center at mac.nysut.org.
To schedule a seminar or become an SOS volunteer, contact NYSUT retiree Jay Broad at 516-781-8685 or the Medicare Rights Center at 800-480-2068, ext. 6285.
In the original version of this story, Francis Hilliard was incorrectly listed as Retiree Council 39 president. Her correct title is RC 39 At-Large Director; Pete Herron is president of RC 39. We apologize for the error.