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Warren Releases Plan to Keep Our Promises to Servicemembers, Veterans, and Military Families

Senator Elizabeth Warren, candidate for president, detailed her plan for servicemembers, veterans and military families © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Senator Elizabeth Warren released her plan to support and protect America’s veterans, service members and military families ahead of Veterans Day. 

“All three of my brothers served, so I know the responsibility we have to our service members, military families, and veterans. As Commander-in-Chief, I will lead our Armed Forces with awareness of the unique challenges service members and military families face, and the difficulties veterans encounter as they navigate VA during their transition to civilian life. I will honor our troops not only by executing sound military strategy, but also by caring for our veterans after they take off the uniform. And I will prioritize our most important strategic asset – our people – as I reform Pentagon spending and address our most pressing national security crises. The way I see it, this is not complicated. It’s about a government that keeps its promises to those who served — it’s about our values. “

This is from the Warren campaign:

Charlestown, MA – As President, Senator Elizabeth Warren pledged to: 

Raise service members’ pay at or above the Employment Cost Index and protect earned benefits, ensuring that total compensation remains competitive with the civilian sector and that it reflects the unique demands of military life

Prioritize family readiness by addressing spouse employment, housing, child care and education, and take care of military caregivers

Expand mental health services and work to end military suicide by setting a goal of cutting veterans’ suicides in half within her first term

Tackle sexual assault and prosecute sexual harassment as a stand-alone crime under military law

Enforce equal treatment for all who serve, including women, immigrants, and LGBTQ+ service members

Ease the transition for veterans by eliminating the benefits backlog and establishing a “warm hand-off” between DOD and VA

Reject attempts to privatize the VA by investing in a VA worthy of the veterans it serves — to provide the high-quality, evidence-based, culturally competent programs that our veterans rely on for years to come.

As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Elizabeth has worked to achieve pay raises for senior enlisted personnel, fix repeated promotion delays for our National Guard, and fought to protect military families from fraud and abuse. Major provisions of her bill with Congresswoman Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) to address unsafe and unsanitary housing conditions on military bases were included as part of the Senate-passed FY2020 NDAA.

Keeping Our Promises to Our Service Members, Veterans, and Military Families

This Veterans Day, Americans will gather in towns and cities across our country to thank our military personnel past and present. With three brothers who served, this day is especially meaningful to me.

Less than 1% of the U.S. population currently serves in uniform. And while Americans rightly honor their service on November 11, too often the day-to-day sacrifices of military families go unseen and unremarked. Parades and salutes to the troops are important ways that Americans express their gratitude, but they’re only platitudes if they’re not backed up with meaningful action and policies that support our military both during and after service — not just on Veterans Day, but every day. 

For me, that starts with care in how we deploy our forces abroad. Defense policy is veterans policy. For decades, we have been mired in a series of wars that have sapped our strength and skewed our priorities. As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I have seen up close how 18 years of conflict have degraded equipment, eroded our forces’ readiness, and postponed investment in critical military capabilities.

The burden of these wars has fallen primarily on our military personnel, who have endured repeated deployments in dangerous places around the globe year after year, and their families. 7,027 American service members have lost their lives, almost 60,000 have been injured, and countless more live every day with the invisible wounds of war.

I know our service members and their families are smart, tough, and resourceful — they will accomplish any mission we ask of them, whatever the cost. But it’s not fair to our men and women in uniform to ask them to solve problems that don’t have a military solution. Nor is it fair to them when we refuse to make the tough calls to change course when our strategies aren’t working. 

A strong military should act as a deterrent so that most of the time, we won’t have to use it. We can honor our veterans by ending these endless wars, reining in our bloated defense budget and reducing the influence of defense contractors at the Pentagon, and bringing our troops home responsibly — and then providing our veterans with the benefits they’ve earned. That’s why today I’m introducing my plan to care for our nation’s veterans, service members, military families, and survivors. 

Protecting Earned Benefits for Those Who Serve

In prior generations, America experienced a tight relationship between people in uniform and the rest of our nation. For a host of reasons, however, our all-volunteer military is becoming more and more distant from the population it serves. In recent years the military has sometimes struggled to attract and retain sufficient personnel to meet recruitment targets, in both raw numbers and increasingly technical skill sets. A majority of young people are ineligible to serve, and low unemployment rates and declining propensity for military service mean that even fewer apply to serve in today’s military. Many who enlist do so because they have a family member who served. 

It is clear that the services must do more to compete with 21st century careers and employers to continue to attract and retain the best for the All Volunteer Force. That means more flexible talent management systems and improved quality of life for service members and their families — and it also means preserving best-in-class benefits for our military personnel. But it’s about more than recruitment and readiness. It’s about honoring the commitment of those who choose to serve with commitments of our own. 

Guaranteeing Pay and Benefits

In past years, Congress and the Pentagon have too often sought to balance the budget on the backs of our service members through proposals for lower pay raises, increased out-of-pocket costs, and cuts to benefits like housing and commissaries. Proposals that undermine total compensation are a betrayal of our obligation to our service members, and they undermine our ability to recruit and retain the best possible All Volunteer Force.

In the Senate, I’ve worked across the aisle to achieve pay raises for senior enlisted personnel and restrict the president from reducing pay raises promised to our troops. I’ve also fought to fix repeated promotion delays for our National Guard. 

To ensure that compensation remains competitive with the civilian sector and that it reflects the unique demands of military life, as President I will propose pay raises at or above the Employment Cost Index. I’ll ensure that benefits such as housing allowances keep pace with market rates in base communities, and work to ensure that service members are educated and empowered to make decisions about their retirement and savings choices in light of new options for blended retirement. 

Empowering Military Students 

Over the past 70 years, the GI Bill has helped send millions of veterans to college, easing their transition to civilian life, and contributing to our economic growth. I am committed to ensuring these benefits are guaranteed and protected in the future — for our veterans and their family members. I’ve fought to expand eligibility for educational benefits, including by working to provide Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits for Purple Heart recipients who were not previously eligible, and expanding the Yellow Ribbon education program to cover families of fallen service members.

As benefits have increased — and increased in complexity — as a result of GI Bill expansions, VA has scrambled at times to keep up, leaving military students in the lurch. I’ve worked to ensure that delays at VA don’t negatively impact student veterans, including by helping to pass a bipartisan measure to protect student veterans’ access to education in the event of delayed GI Bill disbursements. 

Too often, the benefits provided to military and veteran students have made them targets for predatory lenders and shady for-profit schools. I’ve fought to protect students from these scams, including by obtaining refunds for military borrowers cheated by loan servicers like Navient. I also fought to restore GI benefits to those cheated by fraudulent for-profit colleges like ITT Tech and Corinthian Colleges. 

But there is more to be done. My plan for affordable higher education will make two- and four-year public college free, and cancel student loan debt up to $50,000 for 42 million Americans — helping thousands of military families burdened with higher education expenses beyond what is covered by the GI Bill, and ensuring all of our veterans and their families have the chance to get essential job training and degrees without taking on a dime of student loan debt. My plan also completely cuts shady for-profit colleges off from federal aid dollars, which will end their abuse of veteran students for their GI Bill benefits once and for all. 

Preventing Fraud and Abuse  

When I set up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, I made protecting service members and veterans a priority. We established an Office of Servicemember Affairs, and I recruited Holly Petraeus to run it. Together, we met with active-duty service members and families to discuss financial issues, including the base where two of my brothers completed their basic training.

I saw firsthand that today’s military families face difficult financial challenges as they try to make ends meet, balancing multiple deployments with raising a family. Some even told me that they felt like they were fighting two wars at once – one in a distant war zone and another here at home against creditors. But I’m proud to say that since 2011, the office we established has heard from over 90,000 service members from all 50 states and saved them nearly $230 million, providing some measure of relief for our military families. 

I’ve made fighting for military families a similar priority in the Senate. I fought to prevent predatory lenders from “loan churning,” or repeatedly refinancing VA-backed mortgages to pocket hefty fees. I successfully expanded financial protections for Gold Star spouses, passing a bipartisan bill to allow a survivor to terminate a residential lease within one year of a service member’s death. And I worked with my Republican colleagues in Congress to pass my Veterans Care Financial Protection Act to protect low-income and older veterans in assisted care from scams targeting their pension benefits. 

As President, I’ll work with Congress to give the CFPB new tools and additional authority to enforce the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. And I’ll appoint individuals at the CFPB and DOJ who will use the full extent of those authorities to aggressively go after scammers and protect our men and women in uniform. Criminals and predators will keep coming up with new and creative ways to target the military community. We must be vigilant — but military families can feel confident that a Warren Administration will always have their backs. 

Prioritizing Family Readiness

Military families form the backbone of our armed forces. Just like other middle-class families, they worry about making ends meet: finding child care, giving their children a good education, retiring with dignity. But military families — particularly dual military couples — also face special challenges, like regular moves from assignment to assignment and the anxiety of a loved one’s deployment. And too often, the unique needs of military communities are overlooked by Washington. 

A Warren Administration will continue and expand current policy of weighing basing and force structure decisions to account for quality of life factors in the surrounding communities, including safe living environments, available child care, quality of public schools, and employment opportunities and licensing reciprocity for military spouses. There’s also a lot more we can do to support and uplift our military families. 

Increasing Military Spouse Employment 

majority of military families report two incomes as vital to their family’s well-being. But employment opportunities for military spouses are hindered by a variety of factors, including frequent moves and lack of available child care at some posts. Last year 30% of military spouses were unemployed, and 56% of working spouses reported being underemployed. Spouses in fields that require professional licenses face an additional challenge, as occupational licensing and credentialing standards vary from state to state. 

Reduced spousal employment isn’t just bad for military families — it results in up to $1 billion annually in lost income and associated costs. We need to make spousal employment a priority. 

The Obama Administration made real progress in encouraging states to offer licensing and credentialing reciprocity for the military community — now we need to finish those efforts to remove barriers to military spouse employment. 

We can start by making permanent the program to reimburse military spouses for professional relicensing. I’ll also work with states to provide military families with a one-stop shop where they can review licensing requirements before a move. 

I’ll also work with Congress to expand and better communicate about special hiring preferences for on-base jobs for military spouses and at American Job Centers. These preferences not only benefit spouses, they help build communities on military installations.

We’ll expand educational opportunities like MyCAA for military spouses, and provide targeted training for high-demand, high-growth sectors and to help military spouses find careers that can move with them. 

Military spouses bring unique strengths to the workforce — it’s time we leverage those strengths to benefit not only our military families but our economy. 

Ensuring High Quality Childcare and Education

As a young working mother, child care almost sank me — until my Aunt Bee stepped in to help. But finding affordable and high-quality child care has gotten even harder since my children were growing up, and not everyone is lucky enough to have an Aunt Bee of their own. 

That’s why I have a plan to provide universal child care for every single one of our babies from birth to school age. It will be free for millions of American families, and affordable for everyone. The federal government will partner with local providers to create a network of child care options that would be available to every family. These options would be held to high federal standards, and we’ll pay child care and preschool workers the wages they deserve. And rather than diverting funding from military daycare programs for a needless wall, I’ll invest again in growing DOD child care centers and modernizing schools on base.

We’ll move forward with efforts to introduce more flexibility into the personnel system for families who want to limit moves for assignments, while ensuring that option does not hamper the service member’s ability to get promoted and advance their military career. We’ll invest the resources necessary to ensure families (and their household goods) are no longer subjected to chaos and mistakes that can impact the experience of transitioning to a new assignment. And we’ll seek to limit family moves during the academic year — when they must occur, we’ll provide dedicated support to families as they navigate transferring educational credits. 

Every military family is unique, and some have unique needs. I’ll work to improve oversight and standardize DOD’s Exceptional Family Member Program to care for dependents with special needs. We need to do more to empower military families to make informed decisions, taking  their individual circumstances into account during relocation and providing dedicated case management to help military families identify appropriate programs and interventions regardless of their location. Supporting these families isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also good for military readiness.

Wounded Warriors and their Families

About 30% of veterans between the ages of 21 and 64 have a disability. As president, I will keep fighting for the rights of people with disabilities and to ensure their full inclusion through policy reforms and enforcement priorities. This includes prioritizing the unique challenges that face veterans with disabilities. 

As part of my plan to empower American workers, I have committed to substantially increasing funding for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to uphold the rights of veterans with disabilities at work. I will also ensure that the Department of Labor is enforcing the law to protect disabled veterans againist work discrimination. I support the Raise the Wage Act to guarantee workers with disabilities a minimum wage of $15 an hour, and I will push to pass the Transformation to Competitive Employment Act, which would provide grants and assistance to support a transition towards competitive, integrated employment for people with disabilities.

It is often family members who care for injured service members and veterans — in some cases, putting aside careers and other opportunities to provide assistance to our wounded warriors. According to a 2014 report, there were approximately 5.5 million military caregivers in the United States — but the physical and emotional strain on this population is understudied and overlooked. 

Medicare for All will expand access to long-term home and community-based care, offering critical support and relieving the financial burden on veterans and their families. A Warren Administration will also empower our nation’s military caregivers by fully implementing the recommendations of the federal advisory panel on caregiving. We’ll create an office within VA focused on the needs of caregivers, ensuring that their voices are heard in the policymaking process and that VA is fully communicating available resources. We’ll ensure that caregivers are formally designated in a patient’s medical record, so that they can be consistently included in medical planning about the course of care. We’ll collect better data on the caregiver population and their needs, including the impact on military children. And we’ll make sure we’re also caring for the caregivers, themselves, including respite care. 

To recognize caregiving for the valuable work it is, my plan to expand Social Security creates a new credit for caregiving for people who qualify for Social Security benefits. This credit raises Social Security benefits for people who take time out of the workforce to care for a family member at least 80 hours a month, including designated “primary family caregivers” of eligible veterans in the Caregiver Support Program. For every month of caregiving that meets these requirements, the caregiver will be credited for Social Security purposes with a month of income equal to the monthly average of that year’s median annual wage.

Lastly, I support eliminating the so-called “Widow’s Tax” and efforts to ensure that all families of veterans who died or became totally disabled from a service-connected condition receive the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) benefits that they are entitled to.

Providing Safe and Affordable Housing

In the mid-1990s, the Department of Defense agreed to privatize the majority of the 300,000 houses it owned and operated on base, many of which were in need of renovation after decades of neglect. It was a good deal for the private developers, but this system has turned out to be a lousy bargain for military families. With their focus on short-term payoffs, private developers failed to invest in and maintain the properties with which they were entrusted. That’s why earlier this year, I released my plan to improve military housing by ensuring that every base has a housing office staffed with advocates for the service member and establishing a “bill of rights” that all military tenants will receive when they move in. 

And for those families who choose to live off base, and for veterans, my plan to increase affordable housing makes a historic federal investment to increase affordable housing supply, lowering rents around the country by 10%. And while cost is a major challenge to finding safe and affordable housing, too many service members and veterans face additional obstacles, including landlords who don’t understand the housing benefits they receive for their service and those who turn away service members and veterans because of discriminatory stereotypes.  My affordable housing plan extends protection against discrimination under the Fair Housing Act to include veteran status, which would include those using HUD-VASH vouchers. I have also pushed hard for more resources for programs to end veterans’ homelessness, including the successful Tribal HUD-VASH program to assist Native American veterans who are homeless or at risk of homelessness find homes in Indian country. 

Putting Service Members and Veterans First

Nearly two decades of combat has put significant stress on the force, and this will continue to manifest itself long after combat operations are over. Our first priority must be the care and safety of those who serve or have served in uniform. 

Eliminating Military Sexual Assault 

For decades, the military has affirmed a “zero tolerance policy” — and yet reports of sexual assault in the military have spiked. In 2018 alone, the Department of Defense estimated that more than 20,000 service members experienced assault or unwanted sexual contact. These statistics are a shameful breach of trust with those who serve. Annual promises from senior military leaders to address the issue increasingly ring hollow — we owe it to our service members to make real change. 

Currently, skilled military prosecutors make an evidence-based recommendation on whether or not a case should proceed to trial, but then military commanders get to decide whether or not they want to listen. That’s why I supported Senator Gillibrand’s effort to remove cases of sexual assault from the chain of command and place trained prosecutors in charge instead. It’s simple – if evidence of a crime warrants a trial, then the case should go to trial. We need to reform the military justice system so that the lawyers and judges trying cases have the necessary experience and expertise, and so that every victim of a sexually-based crime benefits from a competent, empowered advocate from the very first day they report.

We need to change the culture. Sexual harassment and sexual assault are correlated— and 24% of military women and 6% of military men said they had been sexually harassed in the past year. In the Senate, I worked to make so-called “revenge pornography” prosecutable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. We should also prosecute sexual harassment as a stand-alone crime under military law. We should push to expose and prevent sexual harassment in the civilian workforce as well, recognizing that our entire culture has work to do.

And we need to invest in survivors, helping them to get the care they need so that they can recover, and so they can continue to serve. Often, survivors worry that reporting a sexual assault may also bring to light other misconduct, such as underage drinking or fraternization. Sometimes, military commanders will distribute punishment for these offenses by survivors while the sexual assault itself goes unaddressed.  Even worse, more than 20% of those who reported an assault also reported experiencing retaliation. If we want to increase reporting and hold perpetrators of sexual assault accountable, we need to exercise much wider discretion in the way we approach collateral misconduct as part of instances of sexual assault. Until reporting an assault is not perceived as a possible end to someone’s career, we will never fully address this scourge. 

Ending Veteran and Military Suicide

Our service members are resilient, but even the strongest warriors need care. In 2017, 6,139 U.S. veterans died by suicide, an average of nearly 17 each day, and 1.5 times the rate for non-veteran adults. But only half of veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who may need mental health services — including many with diagnoses that increase the risk of suicide, like PTSDtraumatic brain injurysubstance use disorders, or depression — actually access them. 

Every single one of these deaths is a tragedy that could have been prevented. As President, I will set a goal of cutting veteran suicides in half within my first term — and pursue a suite of concrete policies to make sure we get there. 

To get there, we need to invest more in research into the causes of suicide, with a specific focus on contributing factors that are specific to the military experience and a concerted effort to collect the data that will save lives. We should conduct research targeting subgroups of veterans who may be at higher risk of suicide, and evaluate the efficacy of suicide prevention pilot programs and invest in those that make a meaningful difference. 

Veterans account for one in five firearm suicides. My plan to prevent gun violence includes a waiting period before purchase and a federal extreme risk protection law, both of which have been shown to reduce suicides by gun.

We also need to provide consistent, accessible, high-quality mental health care for all of our service members and veterans. Under Medicare for All every person will have this essential care covered. But we must also address the shortfall of mental health providers at DOD and VA, and in the areas where veterans live. 

In the last Congress, I led the fight to prevent budget cuts to the Mental Health Block Grant and secured an additional $160 million for the program, and I urged appropriators to designate $1 billion to mental health programs through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration. I have also proposed significant expansions of Community Health Centers and the National Health Service Corps, which would help increase the supply of primary care and mental health providers in underserved areas. We need to make it easier for service members and veterans to see a mental health professional, including by significantly increasing the number of mental health specialists at DOD and VA, streamlining appointment processes, and enhancing access to telehealth options for those who cannot come to a VA facility. 

We should also focus on preventive care — early and often throughout a military career, including by incorporating annual mental health exams for service members in the same way they receive annual physical exams. We should clearly communicate benefits and eligibility, raising awareness about available care. And we must continue to remove the stigma around warfighters seeking help, and do more to support military families who lose someone to suicide. 

Treating the Opioid and Addiction Crisis

In 2017, over 70,000 people died from a drug overdose — the highest year on record, with the majority due to opioids. And the opioid crisis that has devastated so many American families has not spared our military community. Stressors including deployment, combat exposure, injury, and post-deployment reintegration have been shown to increase the risk of substance abuse. Our military population has a higher risk of substance use disorders, with 11% of veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq treated by the VA being diagnosed with a substance use disorder. 

My CARE Act to end the opioid crisis — introduced in partnership with my late friend Congressman Elijah Cummings of Baltimore — is a comprehensive plan to provide the resources needed to begin treating this epidemic like the public health crisis that it is. It would provide $100 billion in federal funding to states and communities over the next ten years, because that’s what’s needed to make sure every single person gets the treatment they need. 

Under my plan, VA facilities will be able to participate in planning councils to address the opioid crisis in order to ensure that veterans are prioritized in our response and organizations serving veterans have a voice in how the funding is spent. We will expand the number of inpatient beds available to veterans for treatment and recovery. We’ll fund community-based organizations, including eligible veteran-serving nonprofits, working to help prevent and treat addicted veterans. And we’ll provide vocational training for people struggling with addiction, helping them to get back into the civilian workforce after their military careers.

Addressing the “Invisible Wounds” of War

17% of post-9/11 military veterans experience some form of traumatic brain injury during their military service. TBI is associated with higher rates of PTSD, depression, and substance abuse. While our knowledge of these conditions has improved dramatically, it is still incomplete. Moreover, too many veterans don’t receive the treatment they so badly need. While TBI is often associated with blunt physical injuries to the head, research has shown that the blast wave produced by even minor explosions, such as firing heavy weapons, can result in TBI — even if the individual does not exhibit outward physical signs of head injury. 

In the Senate, I worked with my Republican colleagues to establish a longitudinal study at DOD to track the impact of blast exposure and brain health over time, and to push DOD to track service member blast exposure. We’ll use this data to improve our understanding of blast exposure injuries, improve protective equipment, and develop innovative new treatments. We’ll also use it to inform the safety guidance provided to our troops, including by limiting non-combat exposure during training exercises. 

Many states have established veterans’ courts or other diversion programs to provide treatment rather than incarceration for veterans with behavioral issues as a result of trauma, and I support the expansion of these programs. I also support legalizing marijuana. I’ve co-sponsored legislation to study the use of medical cannabis to treat veterans as an alternative to opioids, because we need to pursue all evidence-based opportunities for treatment and response.

The prevalence of certain rare cancers has been increasing steadily among military personnel and veterans who have served overseas. It took years for Vietnam veterans to receive treatment for exposure to Agent Orange — and some, including Blue Water Navy veterans, are still fighting for healthcare and benefits. Some veterans of more recent wars attribute their illness to exposure to toxic burn pits used by the military to dispose of waste, and at least one veterans group has projected that deaths from cancer and other illnesses could outpace suicide deaths in the military population by 2020.

As President, I will ensure that DOD tracks and records potential toxic exposure by integrating it into the post-deployment checklist. We need to ensure that adequate funding is allocated to research diseases that may be connected to certain kinds of exposure. And we must treat those affected without delay — we cannot allow today’s veterans to wait for earned health care. 

Equal Treatment For All Who Serve

The diversity of our force is one of its unique strengths — it allows us to incorporate different perspectives and experiences and to look at problems in new ways. The data are clear: inclusive, diverse militaries simply perform better. When we discriminate or treat classes of service members as less worthy than their peers, we fail to honor that diversity and we do enormous harm to our ability to recruit a strong future force. Minority communities in the military — particularly LGBTQ+, women, Black and Latinx service members — are significantly under-represented in the leadership ranks. Here’s what I’ll do to protect and honor everyone who volunteers to serve. 

LGBTQ+ Service Members

The only thing that should matter when it comes to allowing military personnel to serve is whether or not they can handle the job. Our national security community is weaker when LGBTQ+ Americans are excluded. I have opposed the Trump Administration’s shameful ban on transgender service members from the start — and I’ll reverse it on the first day of my presidency. In addition, advances in care and treatment have made it possible for individuals living with HIV to serve and deploy, and the Pentagon’s policies should be updated to reflect these advances in medical science. 

I’ve also supported efforts to review and correct the military records of service members discharged solely due to their sexual orientation, both before and during the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell era. As Commander-in-Chief, I’ll prioritize this effort, ensuring that we reflect their honorable service and reinstate the benefits they earned.

I’ll include the LGBTQ+ population in the VA’s Center for Minority Veterans, ensuring that they receive targeted outreach and equal care and are treated with dignity and respect. A Warren VA will ensure that every LGBTQ+ person can get the equitable, gender-affirming, and culturally-competent health care they need. That means providing all medically necessary care related to the health of transgender people, including transition-related surgery, and allowing providers discretion to deem gender-affirming procedures as medically necessary based on an individualized assessment. This care will also be available under Medicare for All. Professional medical associations recognize the need for transition-related surgery. VA’s blanket exclusion policy of medically necessary treatment is not grounded in medicine; it should be repealed. 

Empowering Women Service Members 

Women make up 17.5% of the total force. But they can face unique professional and personal challenges over the course of a military career, including higher rates of sexual harassment and assault, higher rates of divorce, challenges starting a family, and fewer opportunities for career advancement

I supported then-Defense Secretary Carter’s decision to open combat positions to women across the services, because the only thing that should matter is an individual’s ability to meet the standards. I’m proud of the women who have risen to that challenge. Now we must do more to recruit women into service, and then ensure that they are given equal opportunities to compete for command and promotions. We’ll invest in research on appropriate gear and injury prevention for women — over one hundred years after being allowed to enlist, women still perform their duties wearing equipment that doesn’t fit them, and therefore doesn’t adequately protect them. And both DOD and VA should enhance the quality of and access to care for women service members, including for preventive and reproductive care and mental health. 

A 21st century VA must also adapt to the modern fabric of our veteran population, ensuring that gender-specific care is the norm. There are about 2 million women veterans today, and women represent the fastest growing veteran subgroup — that’s why I successfully fought to ensure VA has sufficient resources and expertise in its peer counseling program for women veterans. I’ll also ensure that VA provides full reproductive health care for all veterans, in addition to the full reproductive health coverage they will have under Medicare for All. This includes IVF, which is currently only available to married veterans with service-connected infertility who don’t need donor sperm or eggs — discriminating against unmarried veterans, those who delayed pregnancy during their service, and same-sex couples. It also includes contraception, for which VA continues to charge veterans despite the fact that the Affordable Care Act made it available without cost to their civilian counterparts. This also includes abortions. I’ve called to repeal the Hyde Amendment, which blocks federal funds from being used to pay for abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or the life of the woman. VA’s restrictions go even further, prohibiting coverage for all abortions and all abortion counseling with no exemptions, an extreme policy I will eliminate. 

Too often, women veterans experience sexually explicit comments and other forms of harassment that make them feel unsafe and unwelcome and cause them to delay seeking care at their local VA or miss appointments altogether. This is shameful and it has to stop. I’ll ensure that a Warren VA has a comprehensive policy to eliminate sexual harassment and assault and hold perpetrators — VA personnel or anyone else — accountable, so that women veterans do not have to feel unsafe at their VA medical center when they seek the care they’ve earned. 

Immigrant Service Members 

Immigrants to our country have a proud history of honorable military service and often become citizens. But the Trump Administration has done everything it can to make these patriotic individuals who volunteer to serve and defend the United States of America feel unwelcome in our ranks.

In recent years, ICE has deported noncitizen veterans in violation of its own policies, which require additional review before proceeding with a removal case against a veteran. The Trump Administration has taken steps to withdraw deportation protections from military family members, including family of service members deployed in combat overseas. And under DOD’s current policies, immigrant troops are being denied citizenship at a rate higher than their civilian counterparts, and applications for naturalization as a result of military service dropped 72% between 2017 and 2018.

This is a disgrace. It also undermines military readiness. It’s not reasonable to expect service members to be able to concentrate on their jobs when their families are being deported, which is why I’ve used my position as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee to urge the Trump Administration to maintain critical programs like Parole in Place and Deferred Action for undocumented family members of service members. Further, many noncitizen veterans come to the attention of immigration enforcement as a result of PTSD or other trauma associated with their military service; others fear seeking treatment for that reason. Everyone who serves our country deserves equal treatment and benefits, regardless of their citizenship status.

A Warren Administration will make it clear that we will protect veterans and family members of serving military personnel from deportation, and we will review the cases of those who have been deported for possible return to the United States. Consistent with our national security interests, I’ll restart the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program, which recruits non-citizens with specialized skills or language abilities, paired with appropriate security and counterintelligence protections. I’ll also make it easier for noncitizens who serve honorably in our military to naturalize and become citizens. And we will heed the call of veterans to honor our commitment to translators and others who supported them in combat by re-launching the Direct Access Program for these vulnerable refugees.

Easing the Transition for Veterans

Nearly 200,000 personnel separate from military service every year. The initial transition away from military service can be a challenging period, as veterans work to start school or find a job, and readjust to family after time overseas. Many new veterans struggle to find a sense of purpose or connection in new civilian careers and communities. While DOD has improved its transition counseling in recent years, we can do more to prepare service members to return to civilian life. 

Ensuring a “Warm Hand-Off” 

The key to an effective transition is a seamless connection between DOD and the VA — but too often, veterans fall through the cracks. I’ll direct DOD to require that service members pre-enroll and complete processing at the VA before they leave active service. I’ll set a goal of completing interoperable electronic records between DOD and VA by the end of my first term. And I’ll direct VA to expand the vets.gov online portal for veterans and provide veterans access to a VA-provided email, so that the government can continue to communicate with them about their eligibility even if they move physical addresses over time. 

Eliminating the Benefits Backlog

While the VA has made progress in addressing its backlog of benefits cases waiting for adjudication, today there are over 70,000 veterans who have been waiting more than 125 days for a status determination. Moreover, VA itself acknowledges it takes between 12-18 months to review a new appeal, and 5-7 years to get a decision from a Veterans Law Judge. As President, I’ll fully eliminate the initial claims and appeals backlog. And in the interim, we’ll provide a presumption of eligibility for certain interim benefits to all those waiting for a final status determination. 

Our understanding of traumatic brain injury and other complex injuries has improved dramatically in recent years, but VA’s disability compensation process has not kept pace with those developments. I’ll task the National Academy of Public Administration to review and overhaul the disability ratings system to better accommodate “invisible” wounds like TBI. I’ll direct them to take into account recommendations for best practices, including training additional staff to evaluate cases and taking into account symptoms that are closely-associated with undiagnosed TBI. 

A key concern among veterans is that the benefits adjudication process is byzantine and lacks transparency. I’ll make sure that veterans automatically get full access to the results of their examinations and put in place rigorous processes to ensure claims are granted consistently nationwide. And to help veterans navigate the system and obtain the benefits they deserve, I’ll also establish a grant program to fund additional caseworkers at Veterans Service Organizations and other community-based organizations.

Clearing “Bad Paper” Discharges 

As the research into PTSD and traumatic brain injuries has improved, we’ve come to learn that these often invisible injuries lie behind many less-than-honorable discharges. Nearly 6% of post-9/11 discharges have been other-than-honorable — and one study estimated that 62% of service members separated for misconduct had been diagnosed within the 2 years prior to separation with PTSD, TBI, or related conditions. These so-called “bad paper” discharges can have a lasting negative impact, preventing the most vulnerable veterans from accessing benefits, obtaining employment, and other earned and necessary services.

I’ll create a DOD appeals board for veterans seeking to upgrade their discharges to give those denied by the services another opportunity for review and to ensure consistency across the services. I’ll direct that board to expand “liberal consideration” and consider a broader array of potentially mitigating evidence. I’ll direct the VA to provide certain interim benefits to individuals with other-than-honorable discharges until their appeals are adjudicated. And I’ll direct DOD to establish guidance for commanders to ensure that individuals first receive care for underlying conditions that may be contributing to behavioral problems, rather than merely processed for administrative discharge.  

Providing Good Jobs 

Service members gain valuable skills in the military, but often don’t know how to translate their skills into civilian life or receive appropriate “credit” for military service in a civilian context. And while public-private partnerships and other efforts have broken down the stigma around hiring veterans, we can do more to set veterans up for long-term success.

It starts by making it easier for civilian employers to identify military skill sets that most closely match their needs, and helping veterans to describe their military experiences in language that resonates with civilian employers. In the Senate, I’ve prioritized improving the employment transition for retiring service members, for example by passing a bipartisan bill that made it easier for service members to use their experience operating large military vehicles to obtain a commercial driver’s license. 

As President, I’ll direct DOD to expand resume and career coaching opportunities for military personnel considering transition. To encourage veteran entrepreneurship, I’m proposing a new program to allow veterans to cash out their GI education benefits for a small business loan. And we’ll invest in collaborative programs — like labor’s Helmets to Hardhats program — to connect transitioning service members with federally-recognized apprenticeship opportunities and good, union jobs. 

Ending Veterans’ Homelessness 

While the number of veterans experiencing homelessness has dropped over the last decade, nearly 38,000 were still homeless in January 2018. Veterans constituted nearly 9% of the total adult homeless population. Even one homeless veteran is one too many. I’ll restore SNAP benefits that the Trump administration seeks to cut that support 1.4 million low-income veterans, including those who are unemployed or with disabilities. SNAP is a particularly critical support for young veterans and those recently who have recently transitioned from active service. We’ll fully fund rapid re-housing and permanent supportive housing through Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) and HUD-VASH. And we’ll create a new competitive grant program for communities to provide wrap-around services for veterans and their families. We know that access to housing can be a barrier to many veterans – and can enhance the scale of other challenges they face.  By strengthening and expanding programs like HUD-VASH, we can end veteran homelessness and allow our veterans to focus on finding meaningful employment, receiving healthcare for service-connected conditions, and building resilient lives.

Creating a 21st Century VA Health Care System

The Veterans Health Administration is America’s largest health care system, providing care at over 1,200 health care facilities nationwide and serving 9 million enrolled veterans each year.

In recent years, attacks on VA have intensified as Republicans have pressed to privatize large chunks of VA service. My Administration will be clear-eyed about leadership challenges at VA. We will hold accountable leaders who fail to put veterans first or misuse resources, and we will empower whistleblowers who report wrongdoing to address their concerns and protect them from retaliation. But the truth is that care provided by VA outperforms care at non-VA hospitals, as multiple studies have shown. And in a recent survey, 91% of veterans who use VA care said they would recommend it to their fellow veterans. VA has pioneered innovations in medical care and service delivery. It provides world-class care for uniquely service-connected injuries, including treatment for polytrauma, amputations, and spinal cord injuries. 

While community care is appropriate where specialists are unavailable or geographically inaccessible, let me be clear: a Warren Administration will invest in the VA, not further dismantle it. We will not cut the high-quality, evidence-based, culturally competent programs that our veterans rely on. And under Medicare for All, veterans will all have high-quality health coverage that gives them the option to seek care from non-VA doctors and hospitals for no additional cost. If there isn’t a VA close to where they live, Medicare for All will ensure that veterans still get the care they need when they need it. 

In the immediate-term, here’s what we can do to revitalize our VA for the 21st century–

Work with Congress to implement more flexible hiring authorities, with a goal of filling the nearly 49,000 staffing vacancies, the vast majority of which are in the health administration. 

Expand the number of physician recruiters and provide additional financial incentives for physicians in hard-to-recruit specialties and rural VA centers or those near tribal lands.

Reinvigorate VA’s training partnership program — nearly 70% of U.S. doctors receive some training at a VA facility, but VA is hindered from converting those into full-time positions because of the cumbersome hiring processes. 

Fully implement the VA MISSION Act — on-time, and in collaboration with veteran’s groups, ensuring community providers are held to the same high standards of care as VA providers and that the direct care system is not weakened by siphoning away money into the private sector. 

We’ll invest in modernizing aging infrastructure and state-of-the-art medical equipment. 

We’ll work to fill gaps in care, benefits, or other services in underserved regions, including on tribal lands; and further integrating federally-qualified health centers, DOD facilities, and the Indian Health System as appropriate.

Read more about Warren’s plan for service members, veterans and military families here:

Democratic Candidates for 2020: Senator Warren Releases Bold, Progressive Plan to Expand Social Security

Senator Elizabeth Warren, vying to be the Democratic candidate for president in 2020, has released a bold, progressive plan to expand Social Security © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Whenever Republicans talk about the need to reform “entitlements,” they always refer to the “sacrifice” demanded of the people most dependent upon Social Security benefits and most vulnerable (with the least political power) in society. They never ask the most obscenely rich, most comfortable, most powerful to make any sacrifice – after all, they are the “job creators” and we don’t want to interfere with the number of yachts and vacation homes they can purchase.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, vying for the 2020 Democratic nomination for president, has just released her plan to expand Social Security – not cut it.

“Millions of Americans are depending on Social Security to provide a decent retirement. My plan raises Social Security benefits across-the-board by $2,400 a year and extends the full solvency of the program for nearly another two decades, all by asking the top 2% to contribute their fair share to the program,” Warren states. “It’s time Washington stopped trying to slash Social Security benefits for people who’ve earned them. It’s time to expand Social Security.”

This is from the Warren campaign:

Charlestown, MA – Today, Elizabeth Warren released her plan to provide the biggest and most progressive increase in Social Security benefits in nearly 50 years. Her plan will mean an immediate Social Security benefit increase of $200 a month — $2,400 a year — for every current and future Social Security beneficiary in America. That will immediately help nearly 64 million current Social Security beneficiaries, including 10 million Americans with disabilities and their families. 

The plan also updates outdated rules to further increase benefits for lower-income families, women, people with disabilities, public-sector workers, and people of color. The plan finances these benefit increases and extends the solvency of Social Security by nearly two decades by asking the top 2% of earners to contribute their fair share to the program. 

According to an independent analysis, Elizabeth’s plan will immediately lift an estimated 4.9 million seniors out of poverty — cutting the senior poverty rate by 68%. It will also produce a “much more progressive Social Security system” by delivering much larger benefit increases to lower and middle-income seniors on a percentage basis, increase economic growth in the long term, and reduce the deficit by more than $1 trillion over the next 10 years. 

Read more about her plan here and below: 

I’ve dedicated most of my career to studying what’s happening to working families in America. One thing is clear: it’s getting harder to save enough for a decent retirement.

A generation of stagnant wages and rising costs for basics like housing, health care, education, and child care have squeezed family budgets. Millions of families have had to sacrifice saving for retirement just to make ends meet. At the same time, fewer people have access to the kind of pensions that used to help fund a comfortable retirement.

As a result, Social Security has become the main source of retirement income for most seniors. About half of married seniors and 70% of unmarried seniors rely on Social Security for at least half of their income. More than 20% of married seniors and 45% of unmarried seniors rely on Social Security for 90% or more of their income. And the numbers are even more stark for seniors of color: as of 2014, 26% of Asian and Pacific Islander beneficiaries, 33% of Black beneficiaries, and 40% of Latinx beneficiaries relied on Social Security benefits as their only source of retirement income.

Yet typical Social Security benefits today are quite small. Social Security is an earned benefit — you contribute a portion of your wages to the program over your working career and then you and your family get benefits out of the program when you retire or leave the workforce because of a disability — so decades of stagnant wages have led to smaller benefits in retirement too. In 2019, the average Social Security beneficiary received $1,354 a month, or $16,248 a year. For someone who worked their entire adult life at an average wage and retired this year at the age of 66, Social Security will replace just 41% of what they used to make. That’s well short of the 70% many financial advisers recommend for a decent retirement — one that allows you to keep living in your home, go to a doctor when you’re sick, and get the prescription drugs you need.

And here’s the even scarier part: unless we act now, future retirees are going to be in even worse shape than the current ones.

Despite the data staring us in the face, Congress hasn’t increased Social Security benefits in nearly fifty years. When Washington politicians discuss the program, it’s mostly to debate about whether to cut benefits by a lot or a little bit. After signing a $1.5 trillion tax giveaway that primarily helped the rich and big corporations, Donald Trump twice proposed cutting billions from Social Security.

We need to get our priorities straight. We should be increasing Social Security benefits and asking the richest Americans to contribute their fair share to the program. For years, I’ve helped lead the fight in Congress to expand Social Security. And today I’m announcing a plan to provide the biggest and most progressive increase in Social Security benefits in nearly half a century. My plan:

Increases Social Security benefits immediately by $200 a month — $2,400 a year — for every current and future Social Security beneficiary in America.

Updates outdated rules to further increase benefits for lower-income families, women, people with disabilities, public-sector workers, and people of color.

Finances these changes and extends the solvency of Social Security by nearly two decades by asking the top 2% of families to contribute their fair share to the program.

An independent analysis of my plan from Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, finds that my plan will accomplish all of this and:

Immediately lift an estimated 4.9 million seniors out of poverty, cutting the senior poverty rate by 68%.

Produce a “much more progressive Social Security system” by raising contribution requirements only on very high earners and increasing average benefits by nearly 25% for those in the bottom half of the income distribution, as compared to less than 5% for people in the top 10% of the distribution.

Increase economic growth in the long term and reduces the deficit by more than $1 trillion over the next ten years.

Every single current Social Security beneficiary — about 64 million Americans — will immediately receive at least $200 more per month under my plan. That’s at least $2,400 more per year to put toward home repairs, or visits to see the grandkids, or paying down the debt you still might owe. And every future beneficiary of Social Security will see at least a $200-a-month increase too, whether you’re 60 years old and nearing retirement or 20 years old and just entering the workforce. If you want to see how my plan will affect you, check out my new calculator here.

Our Current Retirement Crunch — And How It Will Get Worse If We Don’t Act

Seniors today are already facing a difficult retirement. Without action, future generations are likely to be even worse off.

While we’ve reduced the percentage of seniors living in poverty over the past few decades, the numbers remain unacceptably high. Based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure, 14% of seniors — more than 7 million people — live in poverty. Another 28% of seniors have incomes under double the poverty line. A record-high 20% of seniors are still in the workforce in their retirement years. Even with that additional source of income, in 2016, the median annual income for men over 65 was just $31,618 — and just $18,380 for women over 65.

It’s hard to get by on that, especially as costs continue to rise. Most seniors participate in Medicare Part B, and standard premiums for that program now eat up close to 10% of the average monthly Social Security benefit. The average senior has just 66% of Social Security benefits remaining after paying all out-of-pocket healthcare expenses — and if we don’t adopt Medicare For All, out-of-pocket medical spending by seniors is projected to rise sharply over time. The number of elderly households still paying off debt has grown by almost 20% since 1992, and hundreds of thousands of seniors have had their monthly benefits garnished to pay down student loan debt.

Meanwhile, the prospect of paying for long-term care looms over most retirees. 26% of seniors wouldn’t be able to fund two years of paid home care even if they liquidated all of their assets. And for people that have faced lifelong discrimination, like LGBTQ seniors who until recently were denied access to spousal pension privileges and spousal benefits, the risk of living in or near poverty in retirement is even higher.

This squeeze forces a lot of seniors to skimp in dangerous and unhealthy ways. A recent survey found that millions of seniors cut pills, delay necessary home and car repairs, and skip meals to save money.

While the picture for current retirees is grim, it’s projected to get even worse for Americans on the cusp of retirement. Among Americans aged 50 to 64, the average amount saved in 401(k) accounts is less than $15,000. On average, Latinx and Black workers are less likely to have 401(k) accounts, and those who do have them have smaller balances and are more likely to have to make withdrawals before retirement. The gradual disappearance of pensions has been particularly harmful to workers of color who are near retirement. And 13% of all people over 60 have no pension or savings at all.

Meanwhile, this near-retirement group are also suffering under the weight of mounting debt levels and other costs. 68% of households headed by someone over 55 are in debt. Nearly one-quarter of people ages 55 to 64 are also providing elder care. According to one study, 62% of older Latinx workers, 53% of older Black workers, and 50% of older Asian workers work physically demanding jobs, leading to higher likelihood of disability, early exit from the job market, and reduced retirement benefits.

Gen-Xers and Millennials are in even greater trouble. For both generations, wages have been virtually stagnant for their entire working lives. 90% of Gen-Xers are in debt, and they’re projected to be able to replace only 50% of their income in retirement on average. Many Gen-Xers are trapped between their own student loans and mortgages, the costs of raising and educating their children, and the costs of caring for their elderly relativesTwo-thirds of working millennials have no retirement savings, and the numbers are even worse for Black and Latinx working millennials. Debt, wage stagnation, and decreasing pension availability mean that, compared to previous generations at the same age, millennials are significantly behind in retirement planning.

There’s also the looming prospect of serious Social Security cuts in 2035. Social Security has an accumulated reserve of almost $3 trillion now, but because of inadequate contributions to the program by the rich, we are projected to draw down that reserve by 2035, prompting automatic 20% across-the-board benefit cuts if nothing is done.

My plan addresses both the solvency of Social Security and the need for greater benefits head on — with bold solutions that match the scale of the problems we face.

Creating Financial Security By Raising Social Security Benefits

The core of my plan is simple. If you get Social Security benefits now, your monthly benefit will be at least $200 more — or at least $2,400 more per year. If you aren’t getting Social Security benefits now but will someday, your monthly benefit check with be at least $200 bigger than it otherwise would have been.

My $200-a-month increase covers every Social Security beneficiary — including the 10 million Americans with disabilities and their families who have paid into the program and now receive benefits from it. Adults with disabilities are twice as likely to live in poverty as those without a disability. While 9% of people without disabilities nearing retirement live in poverty, 26% of people that age with disabilities live in poverty. Monthly Social Security benefits make up at least 90% of income for nearly half of Social Security Disability Insurance beneficiaries.

This benefit increase will also provide a big boost to other groups. It will help the 621,000 disabled veterans who are Social Security beneficiaries. It will benefit the 1 million seniors who exclusively receive Social Security Insurance — which helps Americans with little or no income and assets — and the 2.7 million Americans who receive both SSI and Social Security benefits.

On top of this across-the-board benefit increase, I’ll ensure that current and future Social Security beneficiaries get annual cost-of-living adjustments that keep pace with the actual costs they face. The government currently increases Social Security benefits annually to keep pace with the price of goods typical working families buy. But older Americans and people with disabilities tend to purchase more of certain goods — like health care — than working-age Americans, and the costs of those goods are increasing more rapidly. That’s why my plan will switch to calculating annual cost-of-living increases based on an index called CPI-E that better reflects the costs Social Security beneficiaries bear. Based on current projections, that will increase benefits even more over time.

Combined, my immediate $200-a-month benefit increase for every Social Security beneficiary and the switch to CPI-E will produce significantly higher benefits now and decades into the future. My Social Security calculator will let you see how much your benefits could change under my plan.

Targeted Social Security Improvements to Deliver Fairer Benefits

Broadly speaking, Social Security benefits track with your income during your working years. That means pay disparities and wrongheaded notions that value salaried work over time spent raising children or caring for elderly relatives carry forward once you retire. That needs to change. My plan increases Social Security benefits even further by making targeted changes to the program to deliver fairer benefits and better service to women and caregivers, low-income workers, public sector workers, students and job-seekers, and people with disabilities.

Women and Caregivers

In part because of work and pay discrimination and time out of the workforce to provide care for children and elderly relatives, women receive an average monthly Social Security benefit that’s only 78% of the average monthly benefit for men. That’s one reason women over the age of 65 are 80% more likely to live in poverty than men. My plan includes several changes that primarily affect women and help reduce these disparities.

Valuing the work of caregivers. My plan creates a new credit for caregiving for people who qualify for Social Security benefits. This credit raises Social Security benefits for people who take time out of the workforce to care for a family member — and recognizes caregiving for the valuable work it is.

The government calculates Social Security benefits based on average lifetime earnings, with years spent out of the workforce counted as a zero for the purpose of the average. When people spend time out of the workforce to provide care for a relative, their average lifetime earnings are smaller and so are their Social Security benefits.

That particularly harms lower-income women, people of color, and recent immigrants. There are more than 43 million informal family caregivers in the country, and 60% of them are women. A 2011 study found that women over fifty forgo an average of $274,000 in lifetime wages and Social Security benefits when they leave the workforce to take care of an aging parent. Caregivers who also work are more likely to be low-income and incur out-of-pocket costs for providing care. Because access to paid or partially paid family leave is particularly limited for workers of color — and first-generation immigrant workers are less likely to have jobs with flexible schedules or paid sick days — these workers are more likely to have to take unpaid leave to provide care and thus suffer reductions in their Social Security benefits.

My plan will give credit toward the Social Security average lifetime earnings calculation to people who provide 80 hours a month of unpaid care to a child under the age of 6, a dependent with a disability (including a veteran family member), or an elderly relative. For every month of caregiving that meets these requirements, the caregiver will be credited for Social Security purposes with a month of income equal to the monthly average of that year’s median annual wage. People can receive an unlimited amount of caregiving credits and can claim these credits retroactively if they have done this kind of caregiving work in the last five years. By giving caregivers credits equal to the median wage that year, this credit will provide a particular boost in benefits to lower-income workers.

Improving benefits for widowed individuals from dual-earner households and widowed individuals with disabilities. Because women on average outlive men by 2.5 years, they typically spend more of their retirement in widowhood, a particularly vulnerable period financially. My plan provides two targeted increases in benefits for widows.

In households with similar overall incomes, Social Security provides more favorable survivor benefits to the surviving spouses in single-earner households than in dual-earner households. After the death of a spouse, a surviving spouse from a dual-earner household can lose as much as 50% of her household’s retirement income. My plan will reduce this disparity by ensuring that widow(er)s automatically receive the highest of: (1) 75% of combined household benefits, capped at the benefit level a household with two workers with average career earnings would receive; (2) 100% of their deceased spouse’s benefits; or (3) 100% of their own worker benefit.

My plan will also improve benefits for widowed individuals with disabilities. Currently, a widow with disabilities must wait until she is 50 to start claiming Social Security survivor benefits if her spouse dies — and even at 50, she can only claim benefits at a highly reduced rate. Since most widows with disabilities can’t wait until the official retirement age of 66 to claim their full survivor benefits, their average monthly benefit is only $748 a month, or less than $9,000 a year. My plan will repeal the age requirement so widow(er)s with disabilities can receive their full survivor benefits at any age without a reduction.

Lower-Income Workers

My plan ensures that workers who work for a lifetime at low wages do not retire into poverty.

In 1972, Congress enacted a Special Minimum Benefit for Social Security. The benefit was supposed to help people who had earned consistently low wages over many years of work. But it’s become harder to qualify for the benefit, and the benefit amount has shrunk in value so it now helps hardly anyone. Today, only 0.6% of all Social Security beneficiaries receive the Special Minimum Benefit, and projections show that no new beneficiaries will receive it this year.

No one who spends 30 years working and contributing to Social Security should retire in poverty. That’s why my plan restructures the Special Minimum Benefit so that more people are eligible for it and the benefits are a lot higher. Under my plan, any person who has done 30 years of Social Security-covered work will receive an annual benefit of at least 125% of the federal poverty line when they reach retirement age. That means a baseline of $1,301 a month in 2019 — plus the $200-a-month across-the-board increase in my plan, for a total of $1,501 a month. That’s more than $600-a-month more than what that worker would receive under current law.

Public Sector Workers

My plan also ensures that public sector workers like teachers and police officers get the full Social Security benefits they’ve earned.

If you work in the private sector and earn a pension, you’re entitled to your full pension and your full Social Security benefits in retirement. But if you work in state or local government and earn a pension, two provisions called the Windfall Elimination Provision and Government Pension Offset can reduce your Social Security benefits. WEP slashes Social Security benefits for nearly 1.9 million former public-sector workers and their families, while GPO reduces — and in most cases, eliminates — spousal and survivor Social Security benefits for 700,000 people, 83% of whom are women.

My plan repeals these two provisions, immediately increasing benefits for more than two million former public-sector workers and their families, and ensuring that every current state and local government employee will get the full Social Security benefits they’ve earned.

Students and Job Seekers

My plan also updates the Social Security program so that it encourages people to complete college and participate in job training programs or registered apprenticeships.

Restoring and extending benefits for full-time students whose parent has a disability or has died. In the Reagan administration, Congress cut back a provision that allowed children receiving Social Security dependent benefits to continue to receive them until age 22 if they were full-time students. Before the provision was repealed, these beneficiaries came from families with average incomes 29% lower than their college peers, were more likely to have a parent with low educational attainment, and were more likely to be Black. Access to these benefits boosted college attendance and performance by letting low-income students reduce the number of hours they had to work while attending school. When Congress repealed this benefit, college attendance by previously eligible beneficiaries dropped by more than one-third. My plan restores this provision — and it extends eligibility through the age of 24 because only 41% of all students complete college in four years, and Black, Native American, and Latinx students have even lower four-year completion rates. A longer eligibility period will improve the chances the people who receive this benefit complete college before the benefit ends.

Encouraging registered apprenticeships and job training. Currently, workers who participate in registered apprenticeships or job training may receive lower Social Security benefits because they are taking time out of the workforce or agreeing to accept lower-paying positions to gain skills. We’re about to enter a period of immense transformation in the economy, and we should encourage workers to take time to participate in a registered apprenticeship or job training program so they are prepared for in-demand jobs. That’s why I proposed a $20 billion investment in high-quality apprenticeships in my Economic Patriotism and Rural America plans. My plan today complements that investment by letting workers in job training and apprenticeship programs elect to exclude up to three years in those programs from their lifetime earnings calculation for Social Security benefits, thereby producing a higher average lifetime earnings total — and higher benefits.

Improving the Administration of Social Security Benefits

My plan improves Social Security in another important way: it makes it easier for people to actually get the benefits they’ve earned.

Congress is starving the Social Security Administration of money, creating hardship for people who rely on the program for benefits. Congress has slashed SSA’s operating budget by 9% since 2010, even as the number of beneficiaries is growing. Meanwhile, more Baby Boomers are approaching retirement age — a critical period when workers are most likely to claim Social Security Disability benefits. SSA has a staff shortagerising telephone and office wait times, and outdated technology. Sixty-four Social Security field offices have closed since 2011 and 500 mobile offices have closed since 2010. Field office closures are correlated with a 16% drop in disability insurance beneficiaries in the surrounding area because those people — who have paid into the system and earned their benefits — no longer have assistance to file their applications.

Disability insurance applicants can wait as long as 22 months for an eligibility hearing. Thousands of people have died while waiting for administrative law judges to determine if they’re eligible to receive their benefits. To make matters worse, Donald Trump issued an Executive Order that will politicize the process of selecting the judges who adjudicate these cases. And his administration keeps proposing more cuts to the SSA budget.

My plan restores adequate funding to the Social Security Administration so that it can carry out its core mission. That will allow us to hire more staff, keep offices open, reduce call times, update the technology system, and give applicants and beneficiaries the services they need. And I will revoke Trump’s Executive Order on administrative law judges.

Strengthening Social Security By Extending Solvency For Nearly Two More Decades

Currently, the rich contribute a far smaller portion of their income to Social Security than everyone else. That’s wrong, and it’s threatening the solvency of the program. My plan fully funds its new benefit increases and extends the full solvency of Social Security for nearly 20 more years by asking the richest top 2% of families to start contributing more.

Social Security is funded by mandatory insurance contributions authorized by the Federal Insurance Contributions Act, or “FICA”. The FICA contribution is 12.4% of wages, with employers and employees splitting those contributions equally at 6.2% each. (Self-employed workers contribute the full 12.4%.) If you’re a wage employee, you contribute 6.2% of your very first dollar of wages to Social Security, and 6.2% of every dollar after that — up to an annual cap. This year’s cap is $132,900, and each year, that cap increases based on the growth in national average wages.

Congress designed the cap to go up each year based on average wages to ensure that a fairly steady percentage of total wages in America were subject to the FICA contribution requirement. But growing wage disparities over the past few decades has thrown the system out of whack.

While wages for lower-income and middle-income workers have been fairly stagnant — limiting the growth of the national average wage figure we use to set the annual cap — income at the very top has been skyrocketing. That means more income for the biggest earners has been above the cap and therefore exempt from the FICA contribution requirement. In 1983, 90% of total wage earnings were below the cap. Now it’s just 83%. The top 1% of earners have an estimated effective FICA contribution rate of about 2%, compared to more than 10% for the middle 50% of earners. That amounts to billions of dollars every year that should have gone to Social Security but instead remained in the pockets of the very richest Americans, while the Social Security system slowly starved.

And the very rich have escaped contributing to the system in yet another way: more and more of their income is in the form of unearned investment income, not wages, and they don’t have to contribute any of their investment income to Social Security. Although most Americans earn most of their income from wages, capital income makes up more than half of total income for the top 1% and more than two-thirds for the top 0.1%. All that income escapes the Social Security program.

My plan brings our Social Security system back into balance by asking the top 2% of earners to start contributing a fair share of their wages to the system and by asking the top 2% of families to contribute a portion of their net investment income into the system as well:

First, my plan imposes a 14.8% Social Security contribution requirement on individual wages above $250,000 — affecting less than the top 2% of earners — split equally between employees and employers at 7.4% each. While most American workers contribute to Social Security with every dollar they earn, CEOs and other very high earners contribute to Social Security on only a fraction of their pay. My plan changes that and requires very high earners to contribute a fair share of their income. My plan also closes the so-called “Gingrich-Edwards” loophole to ensure that self-employed workers can’t easily reclassify income to avoid making Social Security contributions.

Second, my plan establishes a new 14.8% Social Security contribution requirement on net investment income that applies only to the top 2% — individuals making more than $250,000 in annual income or families making more than $400,000 in annual income. My plan creates a new contribution requirement — modeled on the Net Investment Income Tax (NIIT) from the Affordable Care Act — that asks people and families above these high income thresholds to contribute 14.8% of the lesser of net investment income or total income above these thresholds. My plan also closes loopholes in the NIIT that allow wealthy owners of partnerships and other businesses to avoid it. This contribution requirement will ensure that the very wealthy are paying into Social Security even when they report the bulk of their income as capital returns rather than wages.

Democratic Candidates for 2020: Warren’s Plan to Transform America’s Approach to Trade

Senator Elizabeth Warren, running to be the 2020 Democratic candidate for president, released her plan to break decades of Washington consensus and transform every aspect of America’s current approach to trade.  © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The vigorous contest of Democrats seeking the 2020 presidential nomination has produced excellent policy proposals to address major issues. Senator Elizabeth Warren details a plan to transform America’s approach to trade: “Trade can be a powerful tool to help working families but our failed pro-corporate agenda has used trade to harm American workers and the environment. My plan represents a new approach to trade — one that uses America’s leverage to boost American workers and raise the standard of living across the globe. The President has a lot of authority to remake trade policy herself. When I’m elected, I intend to use it.” Here are the details, as provided by the Warren campaign:

Charlestown, MA – Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is running to be the 2020 Democratic candidate for president, released her plan to break decades of Washington consensus and transform every aspect of America’s current approach to trade. 

America enters trade negotiations with enormous leverage because it is the world’s most attractive market. A Warren Administration won’t hand that leverage to big corporations to use for their own narrow purposes. Elizabeth will use it to create and defend good American jobs, raise wages and farm income, combat climate change, lower drug prices, and raise living standards worldwide. Under Elizabeth’s plan, America will engage in international trade — but on our terms and only when it benefits American families. 

The plan is the third pillar of Elizabeth’s 
economic patriotism agenda. Read more about her plan here and below:
 

Last month, I released my economic patriotism agenda — my commitment to fundamentally changing the government’s approach to the economy so that we put the interests of American workers and families ahead of the interests of multinational corporations. I’ve already released my ideas for applying economic patriotism to manufacturing and to Wall Street. This is my plan for using economic patriotism to overhaul our approach to trade.

For decades, big multinational corporations have bought and lobbied their way into dictating America’s trade policy. Those big corporations have gotten rich but everyone else has paid the price. We’ve lost millions of jobs to outsourcing, depressed wages for American workers, accelerated climate change, and squeezed America’s family farmers. We’ve let China get away with the suppression of pay and labor rights, poor environmental protections, and years of currency manipulation. All to add some zeroes to the bottom lines of big corporations with no loyalty or allegiance to America.

We need to completely transform our approach to trade. America enters into trade negotiations with enormous leverage because America is the world’s most attractive market. As President, I won’t hand America’s leverage to big corporations to use for their own narrow purposes — I’ll use it to create and defend good American jobs, raise wages and farm income, combat climate change, lower drug prices, and raise living standards worldwide. We will engage in international trade — but on our terms and only when it benefits American families.

A New Approach to Trade

My plan is a new approach to trade — one that is different from both the Washington insider consensus that brought us decades of bad trade deals and from Donald Trump’s haphazard and ultimately corporate-friendly approach.

Unlike the insiders, I don’t think “free trade” deals that benefit big multinational corporations and international capital at the expense of American workers are good simply because they open up markets. Trade is good when it helps American workers and families — when it doesn’t, we need to change our approach. And unlike Trump, while I think tariffs are an important tool, they are not by themselves a long-term solution to our failed trade agenda and must be part of a broader strategy that this Administration clearly lacks.

To ensure that American families benefit from international trade in the decades to come, I want to invest in American workers and to use our leverage to force other countries to raise the bar on everything from labor and environmental standards to anti-corruption rules to access to medicine to tax enforcement. If we raise the world’s standards to our level and American workers have the chance to compete fairly, they will thrive — and millions of people around the world will be better off too.

Achieving this vision isn’t about tough talk or tweets. We must do the hard work of transforming every aspect of our current approach to trade: from our negotiating process to the negotiating objectives we pursue to the way we enforce agreements. That’s what I intend to do.

A Trade Negotiation Process that Reflects America’s Interests

Our current approach to negotiating trade agreements works great for the wealthy and the well-connected. The negotiating text is kept confidential from all but a small set of advisory groups comprised mostly of corporate executives and industry trade group representatives. Once those corporate interests are finished whispering in the ears of our negotiators, the completed text is released. Then, under the expedited “Fast Track” procedure Congress typically uses to approve trade agreements, our elected representatives must vote up or down on the agreement with no ability to propose and secure any changes to it. Meanwhile, the negotiators who constructed it often breeze through the revolving door to take jobs with the corporations whose interests underlie the deal.

This is undemocratic and obviously corrupt. In a Warren Administration, we will negotiate and approve trade agreements through a transparent process that offers the public a genuine chance to shape it:

Trade negotiators will publicly disclose negotiating drafts and provide the public with an opportunity to comment. When federal agencies write new rules, they typically must publish a proposed version of the rule and permit the public to submit comments on it. I will adopt a similar approach for our trade deals. Prior to negotiations, our negotiators will publish a draft of their proposals in the Federal Register, let the public offer comments on the draft, and take those comments into consideration during negotiations. And then as talks proceed, they will publish drafts of the negotiating texts so the public can monitor the negotiations.
 

Trade advisory committees will prioritize the views of workers and consumers. I will ensure that there are more representatives from labor, environmental, and consumer groups than from corporations and trade groups on every existing advisory committee. And I’ll expand the current list of advisory committees to create one for consumers, one for rural areas, and one for each region of the country, so that critical voices are at the table during negotiations.  

The US International Trade Commission will provide a regional analysis of the economic effects of a trade agreement. Trade agreements can hollow out communities and transform regional economies. Yet the report the ITC provides before Congress considers a trade agreement only includes a nationwide analysis of a trade deal’s economic impact. I will push for the agency to provide a region-by-region analysis so the public and Members of Congress can understand how an agreement is likely to affect the places they live and represent.  

The congressional approval process will offer more opportunities for the public and elected representatives to shape trade agreements. I will seek expedited congressional approval of trade agreements only when every regional advisory committee and the labor, consumer, and rural advisory committees unanimously certify that the agreement serves their interests. I will also expand the list of congressional committees that must review any agreement before it is eligible for expedited consideration.

Together, these changes will ensure that our negotiations reflect the views of American families, not corporate interests.

Using Our Leverage to Demand More for American Families and to Raise the Global Standard of Living

While a better process will produce better agreements, we also must fundamentally shift the goals of our trade agenda so they are aligned with the interests of America’s families.

With certain important exceptions, we live in a low-tariff world. Modern trade agreements are less about the mutual reduction of tariffs and more about establishing regulatory standards for everything from worker rights to pollution to patent protections.

My approach to trade reflects that reality. For too long, we have entered into trade deals with countries with abysmal records on laborenvironmental, and human rights issues. In exchange for concrete access to the American market, we get vague commitments to do better, which we then hardly enforce. The result is that millions of people in our trading-partner countries don’t gain the benefits of higher standards — and companies can easily pad their profits by shifting American jobs to countries where they can pay workers next to nothing and pollute the air and water freely.

That will end under my Administration. I am establishing a set of standards countries must meet as a precondition for any trade agreement with America. And I will renegotiate any agreements we have to ensure that our existing trade partners meet those standards as well.

My preconditions are that a country must:

Recognize and enforce the core labor rights of the International Labour Organization, like collective bargaining and the elimination of child labor.  

Uphold internationally recognized human rights, as reported in the Department of State’s Country Reports on Human Rights, including the rights of indigenous people, migrant workers, and other vulnerable groups.  

Recognize and enforce religious freedom as reported in the State Department’s Country Reports.  

Comply with minimum standards of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.  

Be a party to the Paris Climate agreement and have a national plan that has been independently verified to put the country on track to reduce its emissions consistent with the long-term emissions goals in that agreement.  

Eliminate all domestic fossil fuel subsidies.  

Ratify the Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions.  

Comply with any tax treaty they have with the United States and participate in the OECD’s Base Erosion and Profit Shifting project to combat tax evasion and avoidance.  

Not appear on the Department of Treasury monitoring list of countries that merit attention for their currency practices.

A country should only be considered an acceptable partner if it meets these basic standards. Shamefully, America itself does not meet many of these labor and environmental standards today. I am committed to fixing that as President. And to help bring other countries up to these standards, I’ll revitalize our commitment to providing technical assistance to help countries improve.

I will also go beyond these minimum standards in key areas to promote the interests of American workers and families.

LaborI will ensure trade agreements protect Buy American and other programs designed to develop local industry, contain strong rule-of-origin standards to promote domestic manufacturing, protect worker pensions, promote equal pay for equal work for women, and prohibit violence against workers. Unlike previous trade deals agreements that have put labor standards in side agreements that are difficult to enforce, I will make labor standards central to any agreement.

Climate Change and the Environment. Climate change is real, it’s man-made, and we’re running out of time to address it. America should be leading this fight, but we have turned our backs on our responsibilities — with communities of color in the U.S. and developing countries bearing a disproportionate amount of the harm.

Trump is moving us in the wrong direction — withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord, renegotiating NAFTA without even a mention of climate change, and handing special carve outs to oil and gas companies.

Beyond requiring implementation of the Paris Climate accord and the elimination of fossil fuel subsidies as preconditions for any trade agreement, I have already proposed a Green Marshall Plan to dedicate $100 billion to helping other countries purchase and deploy American-made clean energy technology.

But we must do more. I will push to secure a multilateral agreement to protect domestic green policies like subsidies for green products and preferential treatment for environmentally sustainable energy production from WTO challenges. And because big corporations will move their production to the countries with the weakest greenhouse gas emissions standards — undermining global efforts to address climate change and penalizing countries that are doing their part — I will impose a border carbon adjustment so imported goods that these firms make using carbon-intensive processes are charged a fee to equalize the costs borne by companies playing by the rules.

Prescription Drugs. Last year, Americans spent more than $500 billion on prescription drugs. That’s a 50% increase since 2010. Nearly 3 in 10Americans report not taking their medicine as directed because of costs. And yet, one of the core elements of America’s current trade agenda is guaranteeing pharmaceutical firms monopoly protections so they can avoid competition from generic drugs — driving up costs and reducing access to necessary medicine abroad, and undermining our efforts to reduce drug prices here at home. That’s exactly what the Trump Administration has done as part of their failed effort to renegotiate NAFTA.

While medical innovation is important, there is no link between extremely long exclusivity periods and pharmaceutical innovation. These are giveaways to drug companies, plain and simple, which allow them to maintain ludicrously high drug prices.

As President, I will fight to bring down the costs of prescription drugs here and around the world. I will never use America’s leverage to push another country to extend exclusivity periods for prescription drugs. I will support efforts to impose price controls on pharmaceuticals. And I will actively seek out opportunities to reduce exclusivity periods in our existing trade deals in exchange for securing other changes that will help America’s working families.

Agriculture. For decades, trade deals have squeezed family farmers, with Black farmers losing their land particularly quickly. Between the trade fights incited by Trump’s haphazard tariffs and a series of natural disasters, America’s farmers are now facing the worst crisis in almost 40 years. They are also facing unprecedented levels of uncertainty and instability. Trump’s tariffs have reduced crop prices, threatened farmers already operating on razor-thin margins, and opened up new non-American markets against which our farmers are now forced to compete. Like trade deals of the past, Trump’s NAFTA 2.0 is written to help giant multinational agribusinesses at the expense of family farms, and it will do nothing to solve the newly created market insecurity Trump’s tariffs have caused.

As President, I will fight for trade agreements that reward American farmers for their hard work by negotiating for fair prices for goods, breaking up the monopolies in grain trading and meat packing, and protecting domestic markets to create stability for America’s family farms. And I will impose Country-of-Origin Labeling rules to protect American producers and provide transparency to consumers.

Consumer protection. We must ensure that the food we eat is high-quality and safe. But our trade agreements have limited safety standards and the inspection of imported foods, while simultaneously enabling a new flood of food imports that overwhelm food safety inspectors. In my Administration, our trade pacts will require imported food to meet domestic food safety standards, including enhanced border inspection requirements.

As with imported food, our current trade deals require us to allow imports of other products and services that do not meet domestic safety and environmental standards. My trade agreements will ensure that imported products and services must meet the same standards as domestic products and services.

Antitrust. We are in an era of massive consolidation across many sectors of the economy. One of the reasons why is that we have a narrow, permissive approach to mergers that looks only at economic efficiency and consumer welfare instead of assessing the impact that a merger will have on competition itself.

In recent years, we have added this problematic standard into trade agreements and proposed it as the defining objective for competition policy in new and renegotiated agreements. Under my administration, we will not propose this standard in any new agreement, and we will work to renegotiate agreements to remove it.

Delivering for American Families with Stronger Enforcement

Our approach to enforcing trade agreements drives down standards worldwide and undermines American families. We offer big corporations fast and powerful methods to enforce the provisions that benefit them but make it nearly impossible for Americans to enforce labor and environmental protections. Foreign governments only fear a challenge to strong rules that might hurt corporate bottom lines, not to weak rules that might not adequately protect workers, the environment, or public health.

I will entirely reorient our approach to enforcement so we drive standards up, not down. I’ll start by ending “Investor-State Dispute Settlement,” or ISDS, the favorable enforcement approach we offer corporations. Under ISDS, a company that believes that a new law violates some aspect of a trade agreement can skip the courts and challenge the law before an international panel of arbitrators. If the company wins, the panel can order that country’s taxpayers to pay out billions in damages — with no review by an actual court. What’s worse, the arbitration panels handing out these binding rulings are often made up of corporate lawyers whose day jobs are representing the very same companies that seek judgments before them.

Companies have used ISDS to undermine laws intended to benefit the public interest. A French company challenged Egypt when it increased the minimum wage. A Swedish company challenged Germany when it decided to cut back on nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster. These cases have real effects across the globe: an ISDS panel’s decision to hear a challenge that Philip Morris brought against Uruguay’s anti-smoking campaign prompted several other countries to abandon similar public health efforts.

As President, I will not include ISDS in any new agreement and will renegotiate existing agreements to remove ISDS from them.

And I’ll strengthen our approach to enforcing labor and environmental standards. Unlike a corporation under ISDS, a labor union seeking to enforce labor standards can’t bring a claim on its own — it must convince the federal government to bring a claim on its behalf. Even in the face of overwhelming evidence, our government can refuse to act for diplomatic or other unrelated reasons.

As a result, the federal government has only pursued one such claim in the last 25 years. In that one case, the American government, AFL-CIO, and Guatemalan unions spent nine years trying to challenge the Guatemalan government for violating the labor chapter of one of our trade deals because Guatemalan workers were being murdered for trying to join a union. In the end, we lost because the trade agreement required a showing that the violations had affected trade.

I will replace this broken process by creating independent commissions — made up of experts in the area — to monitor potential violations, respond to complaints, and investigate claims. The commissions must review and investigate claims promptly so that claims don’t languish for years. If one of these commissions recommends that the United States bring a claim against another country, the United States will be required to do so, without exception.

I will also fix the problem that arose in the Guatemala case by pushing to remove language from our deals that require us to show that a violation of rights was “sustained or recurring” and “affecting trade or investment.” A violation is a violation, and I won’t let another case like Guatemala happen ever again.

I will strengthen our enforcement approach in other ways as well:

Under WTO rules, a country designated as a “non-market economy” can face more serious trade penalties. I will push for a new “non-sustainable economy” designation that would allow us to impose tougher penalties on countries with systematically poor labor and environmental practices. We cannot allow countries that treat their workers and the environment poorly to undercut American producers that do things the right way.  

I already have a plan to move the lead American trade negotiator — the Office of the United States Trade Representative — within my new Department of Economic Development. That will ensure that America’s trade policy supports our broader economic agenda of defending and creating good American jobs. I will also create a new labor and environment enforcement division at the USTR to more effectively enforce obligations, and embed a labor attache at U.S. embassies to monitor compliance with our labor standards.  

Unlike the current approach that lets our government ignore unfair trade practices, my administration will create automatic triggers to initiate investigations into unfair trade practices. If those investigations produce compelling evidence of a violation, the Department will impose trade remedies immediately until the offenders show they are no longer engaging in an unfair trade practice. These automatic triggers will also apply to violations of labor and environmental standards.  

Finally, when we impose duties to support particular domestic industries, I want to ensure that the money we collect actually goes to American workers, instead of being sucked up by executives and shareholders. I will fight to change our trade laws so that we review duties every six months and lift the duties if companies can’t demonstrate the benefits of the duties are going to their workers.