Personal Finance

This plan to fix Social Security could be part of the HEALS Act. Some worry it may lead to benefit cuts

Key Points
  • As lawmakers negotiate over the HEALS Act, the coronavirus stimulus package proposed by Senate Republicans, a measure to tackle the troubled funding for Social Security's trust funds could also be included.
  • Called the TRUST Act, the bill would pave the way for fast-tracked changes to Social Security and Medicare and how the nation's highways are funded.
  • Advocates for Social Security worry the bipartisan bill could lead to benefit cuts and less money in the pockets of seniors.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, stops to speak to reporters as he arrives for the Senate Republicans weekly lunch on Tuesday, June, 9, 2020.
Bill Clark | CQ-Roll Call | Getty Images

While Washington lawmakers negotiate over how much money to inject into a U.S. economy battered by Covid-19, one group of politicians hopes to also start fixing ailing funds for Social Security, Medicare and the nation's highways.

This week, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and 14 co-sponsors introduced a bill for inclusion in the next relief package. It's an updated version of legislation Romney introduced last year.

The bill is called the Time to Rescue United States' Trusts Act, or TRUST Act, of 2020. The proposal would create bipartisan committees to come up with plans to fix the solvency of the various trust funds that support the programs.

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Any bills proposed by the committees would be fast-tracked for consideration by both the House and Senate.

Though it has bipartisan support, some advocacy organizations for retirees think the TRUST Act really spells trouble for the endangered funds and seniors' Social Security benefits.

"It's an attempt to go behind closed doors to divert political accountability for taking a vote the American people don't want," said Nancy Altman, president of Social Security Works, an advocacy organization.

How the TRUST Act would work

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The TRUST Act calls for the Treasury Department to deliver a report to Congress on the state of the endangered federal trust funds at the beginning of January 2021.

From there, so-called "Rescue Committees" would be formed for each trust fund. Each group would include at least two members from each party. Their task would be to come up with legislation with the goal of creating a plan to bring the funds back to solvency and identify other improvements that should be made.

Bills that are created by the committees would get immediate consideration from the House and Senate. At least 60 votes would be needed before they could clear the Senate.

Why there is opposition

Among the groups to speak out against the TRUST Act is AARP, the nonpartisan non-profit that advocates for seniors, which called for dropping the proposal from the legislative package altogether.

In a recent statement, Nancy LeaMond, executive vice president and chief advocacy and engagement officer at AARP, called the TRUST ACT "a bill that is unrelated to the crisis and that wrongly targets Social Security and Medicare to reduce deficits that have expanded because of needed pandemic relief."

Those deficits that are spiking because of the pandemic are not related to Social Security, Altman said.

You can't spend benefits without adding the dedicated revenue to pay the cost.
Nancy Altman
president of Social Security Works

"Social Security doesn't add a penny to the  deficit," Altman said. "You can't spend benefits without adding the dedicated revenue to pay the cost."

Social Security's trust funds are at risk of becoming depleted sooner due to the Covid-19 crisis. But groups like Social Security Works are advocating instead for legislation such as the Social Security 2100 Act, led by Rep. John Larson, D-Conn., which would include some tax increases while avoiding benefit cuts.

The TRUST Act committees could recommend cuts to benefits, like raising the full retirement age, which would hurt seniors, Altman said.

Who supports the bill

The TRUST Act has support on both sides of the aisle.

Senators supporting the bill include Joe Manchin, D-W Va.; Todd Young, R-Ind.; Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.; Shelley Moore Capito, R-W Va.; Doug Jones, D-Ala.; Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.; Angus King, I-Maine; Rob Portman, R-Ohio; Mark Warner, D-Va.; David Perdue, R-Ga.; John Cornyn, R-Texas; Martha McSally, R-Ariz; Mike Rounds, R-S.D.; and Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska.

Similar legislation has been proposed in the House by Reps. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis.; Ed Case, D-Hawaii; William Timmons, R-S.C.; Ben McAdams, D-Utah; and Scott Peters, D-Calif. 

A letter was also sent by a bipartisan group of 60 Congressional representatives advocating for the legislation to be included in the next round of legislation.