Demographically, Maine is the oldest state in the nation, and so the health of the Social Security system is of particular importance here. Nearly a quarter-million Mainers receive benefits that average $1300 per month.
Some Democrats on Capitol Hll are backing changes that would bolster the system, and Maine’s own Congressional delegation is looking closely at a sweeping overhaul proposal that would gradually increase the tax on earnings.
In less than 20 years, analysts forecast that there will not be enough raised by the Social Security tax on earnings to pay benefits. A proposal being advanced by House Democrats would tax larger share of earnings and slowly raise the tax rate over the next 24 years. Supporters say it would not only assure that the system is solvent, it would also provide about a two percent across the board increase in benefits.
1st District Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree says its solves the Social Security problem without raising the retirement age.
“That is very unpopular and, particularly in a state like Maine, where we have a high percentage of senior citizens, but also a big percentage of people who do the kind of work you can’t keep doing until they are 75,” Pingree says. “People work in the woods, fishermen, farmers, you wear yourself out.”
2nd District Rep. Jared Golden, also a Democrat, says that while many Republicans in Washington agree that Social Security needs to be overhauled, their proposed solutions, such as privatizing the program, have fallen flat.
“The American people do not support the privatization of those programs,” Goldens says. “If I were the Republican party, I would be looking to prove that we support Social Security, that we support Medicare.”
Golden believes there is bipartisan support for the sweeping overhaul legislation in both the House and the Senate.
Republican Senator Susan Collins says there are parts of the bill she likes.
“There are certain provisions of his bill that I like. For example, it improves the minimum benefit level which is something I have advocated for, for years. "
Collins applauds the sponsors of the proposal for at least taking action, because she says Congress must address the problem before the trust fund runs out of money.
“It’s intriguing,” she says. “That something that…I think we have to put everything on the table in order to stabilize the trust fund.”
Collins says currently the Social Security tax applies only to the first $132, 900 a person earns in a year. She says she would support increasing that threshold, but is concerned that raising the tax rate over a couple of dozen years would become a burden for younger taxpayers.
Independent Senator Angus King shares that concern, but sees the House Democratic plan as a good starting point for negotiations that will likely be difficult.
“The issue of an actual increase in the tax itself which applies to both employers and employees, I think, is something we gotta understand what the implications are,” King says.
Collins says she doubts the bill will be considered in the Senate this year because of all the other contentious business before it, but Golden says Social Security reform might be one of the few issues on which bipartisan support could lead to a compromise.
Originally published 3:49 p.m. March 15, 2019