Grassroots Voices for
Economic Justice

a project of the Center for Community Change Action

Maine People's Alliance

MPA works to raise minimum wage and eliminate tipped wages

MPA works to raise minimum wage and eliminate tipped wages

Maine People’s Alliance (MPA) has faught against the under-handed tactics of opponents to their campaign to raise the minimum wage and eliminate tipped wages.  In its online publication MPA warns Mainers, “Don’t be fooled by these fake minimum wage ads.” They write, “The website at www.raisethewagenow.com, which has no authorship information, claims that a vote for LD 1695 means “giving minimum wage workers across our state millions in raises, right away.” In fact, the bill sponsored by Governor Paul LePage and amended by Republican Senator Amy Volk would create a competing measure to the November ballot initiative this fall, splitting the vote and potentially preventing any minimum wage increase from passing.” Meanwhile, the MPA-led campaign has seen enormous grassroots supports, including 5,823 individual contributions of less than $40 each.

Building a Caring Economy event in New Hampshire

Building a Caring Economy event in New Hampshire

On January 23, the Granite State Organizing Project (GSOP), CCC and other partners including Rights and Democracy, the Maine People’s Alliance, the Vermont Workers’ Center, and the New Jersey Organizing Project held an important day-long event in Concord called “Building a Caring Economy that Works for New Hampshire Families.” Roughly 150 people came together in workshops throughout the morning and in a series of panels and salon style conversations between grassroots leaders, academics, and elected officials.

The assembled community members dug deep into what it would really take to build a caring economy. GSOP youth leader Adol Mashut spoke to the struggles of low wage workers, sharing her powerful story of working in terrible conditions at a factory under a temp agency as a teen, to help her family make ends meet. Other leaders dug into the complex realities of rural poverty, the devastating impacts of climate change on frontline communities, energy-driven “economic development,” environmentalist concerns, and the struggles of organized labor to move toward a clean energy economy while defending the survival of their members.

Mainers call for scrapping the cap at presidential launch event in New Hampshire

Mainers call for scrapping the cap at presidential launch event in New Hampshire

From http://www.wmtw.com/politics/pataki-jumps-into-race-for-president/33271702

Pataki jumps into race for president

Former NY governor believes moderate politics can help him win

UPDATED 6:28 PM EDT May 28, 2015

EXETER, N.H. —While he might not have the name recognition of other candidates, former New York Gov. George Pataki says his moderate politics will help him win the race for president.

Pataki made the announcement in Exeter, New Hampshire, which played a role in the creation of the Republican Party. He said it was one of the reasons why he chose the location to make his White House bid official.

“It is to preserve and protect that freedom that, this morning, I announce I am a candidate for the Republican nomination for president of the United States,” Pataki said.

The three-term governor worked up a sweat during his campaign announcement.

“I know I’m ready. I know I have the ability to lead and change this country’s direction, and I know I have the ability to appeal beyond just the Republican base to the electorate we need to win this race,” Pataki said.

Pataki told supporters that he wants to ban members of Congress from ever taking lobbyist jobs, repeal the Affordable Care Act and end Common Core. He also took some jabs at Hillary Clinton.

“She speaks for the middle class? They are the party of privilege. We are the party of the middle class,” Pataki said.

The GOP field is already crowded. Some believe that Pataki’s moderate appeal could doom him in the primary.

“He’s almost too reasonable, I think, to appeal to the base,” Milford, New Hampshire, resident Greg Boggis said.

But Pataki’s supporters believe that he can win the nomination and the general election.

“If anybody can defeat the Clintons, and I say that plural, it’s somebody who has taken an historical Democratic state and got elected, not just once, but three separate times,” Mahopac, New York, resident Phil Kuszel said.

Outside the event, some Mainers said they’re coming to New Hampshire to protest the candidates who they believe will cut Social Security.

Jim Lysen of Lewiston said the program will remain solvent if the richest Americans pay more into it.

“There’s a cap currently at $118,500. If we scrap the cap, we can sustain Social Security for everybody in perpetuity,” Lysen said.

The New Hampshire primary will be held Feb. 9.

Maine Ambassador Jarryl Larsen in the Lincoln County News

Maine Ambassador Jarryl Larsen in the Lincoln County News

jarryl_letter
On May 28, some Maine and New Hampshire friends and I heard former New York Governor Pataki would be in Exeter, New Hampshire to announce his candidacy for the US presidency.  A perfect opportunity to hear what he has to say and for us to share our signs stating what was important to us.  Our ages ranged from the 20s to 70s.

Arriving early, we set up signs drawing attention to the importance of Social Security for individuals and for the economy.  Press from the east coast arrived shortly after and began setting up cameras and interviewing those standing outside.  Someone wearing a Pataki label began to read the poster-signs.  He stopped at our oldest sign holder, accusingly asking, “Why do you care!  You’re okay!  You won’t be affected! Unfortunately Eileen was hard of hearing and apologetically said, “I’m sorry, what did you say?”  He repeated his statement and all she could do was stand open mouthed not understanding why he would say that.

Some of the men in the group were upset, but I was trying to figure out why anyone would ask such a question.  Do people really think that because I am over 65 cuts to Social Security shouldn’t matter to me?  Do they really believe that I shouldn’t care about what happens to my children who work hard and who will need their Social Security check just like I do?  Do they think I should not worry about the children whose father or mother died early in their lives, but have social security benefits to give to their children so they can continue in life and get through college?  Are they saying that I should not care about the extreme poverty levels before social security, and the negative economic impact extreme poverty had on our GDP?

Am I okay when my neighbor is not?  How is that right?  Am I okay when young workers will have a poor future ahead of them?  How is that good?  Am I okay when the United States economy stagnates?  How is that just? Social Security is not about me – it is about all of us.

Jarryl Larson, Edgecomb

Letter from Maine Ambassador on SSDI and need for Social Security expansion

Letter from Maine Ambassador on SSDI and need for Social Security expansion

From the Sun Journal

Social Security being targeted

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

As a recent retiree who will depend on Social Security for the bulk of my retirement income, I thank Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, for his leadership in the important fight to expand Social Security and help millions of Americans to live with dignity.

Sen. Brown will be reintroducing shortly the Strengthening Social Security Act, a move that comes none too soon.

The Republican-controlled House, on Jan. 6, passed legislation laying out parliamentary rules for the year. The bill included a little-noticed provision blocking Congress from shifting funds to prevent a 2016 shortfall in Social Security’s disability insurance program, and a provision requiring the Congressional Budget Office to give more favorable analysis to tax cuts for the rich.

The Social Security Administration’s actuaries have projected that the disability insurance program’s trust fund will run out of money next year, potentially forcing a 20 percent benefit reduction for nearly 11 million Americans.

That unprecedented House proposal, preventing routine rebalancing, is purely political and partisan.

Why do lawmakers believe in cutting benefits for Americans who have worked hard all their lives, paid into Social Security, and rely on their Social Security benefits, including disability, in order to survive?

A modest and temporary reallocation to the Disability Trust Fund would put the entire Social Security program on an equal footing, with all benefits payable until at least 2033.

The House majority’s attempt to prevent that solution sends a clear message to middle-class families that targeting Social Security is high on their priority list.

Jim Lysen, Lewiston

Happy Birthday Social Security! in Lewiston, Maine

Happy Birthday Social Security! in Lewiston, Maine

On August 8, local citizen activists representing Maine Peoples Alliance, Maine Alliance of Retied Americans and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare celebrated Social Security’s 79th Birthday by walking the streets of Lewiston, Maine, resplendent in bright yellow Social Security Shirts, and meeting with representatives of Senator Angus King, Senator Susan Collins and Congressman Mike Michaud.

The group presented to our federal delegation copies of “Happy Anniversary Social Security Cards” with messages written by citizens on how Social Security have benefited them, their families and friends; petitions gathered in support of boosting Social Security signed by citizens and proclamations supporting enhancing Social Security signed by locally-elected officials.

The activists were greeted friendly by the delegation offices and by people in the streets, all who expressed their support for a program that has done so much good for so many people. And, mostly everyone agreed that we need to “BOOST” benefits, including support for Caregiver Credits and enhancing Survivor Benefits. May the birthdays continue far into the future, especially by “Scrapping the Cap”!

Letter to the editor: Raising minimum wage would lift Social Security

Letter to the editor: Raising minimum wage would lift Social Security

(from Maine Peoples Alliance member John Bernard in the Portland Press Herald)

Much attention has been drawn lately to the need to raise the minimum wage. One element missing from the conversation is the long-term impact it would have on people’s lives. People working minimum-wage jobs are usually not even able to provide their basic necessities, let alone plan for their retirement.

Raising the minimum wage would help today’s retirees both by raising Social Security contributions and by allowing them to provide better for their families.

Currently, someone who worked full time for 40 years at the minimum wage and retired at 62 would receive a Social Security benefit equal to only $9,039 a year. Even with Social Security, many seniors of color and women are living in poverty.

Social Security provides vital income assistance for 1 in 5 Americans and keeps millions of older Americans like myself out of poverty.

However, despite meaningful contributions to the system during their working lives, many seniors receive modest benefits. With rising health care and housing costs, low-wage earners find it increasingly difficult to make ends meet when they retire, especially when they do not have other sources of income such as pension funds or savings.

Raising the minimum wage can help in the future, but there are also steps we can take to help today’s seniors. Workers with a full career at low pay should not have to face poverty or worse when they retire.

Raising the Social Security Special Minimum Benefit to 125 percent of the federal poverty line recognizes that most workers retire at around age 62 rather than the current full benefit age of 66. This early retirement is often due to poor health and hardship caused by long careers in physically demanding occupations such as construction or manufacturing.

For these and many other reasons, we should raise the minimum wage.

John Bernard

South Portland

Rep. Michaud Talks Retirement Security with Lewiston Residents

Rep. Michaud Talks Retirement Security with Lewiston Residents

from Maine Peoples Alliance

Rep. Michaud Talks Retirement Security with Lewiston Residents

Participants call for congressional action to expand Social Security

In an effort to cut through the rhetoric around retirement security, Congressman Mike Michaud joined retirement security advocates and residents from the Lewiston-Auburn area to hear about the importance of programs like Social Security and Medicare in the lives of constituents.

For Dan and Jo-An Gregorie, retirees who live in Lewiston, Social Security is the lifeline that allows them to live independently despite years of mounting medical debt due to chronic health problems.

“To this day, we spend a good deal of time sorting through and figuring which bills to pay. Even though we currently owe more than twice what we paid for our home, we consider ourselves very fortunate that we still own one compared to so many who don’t,” said Dan Gregorie, who was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder that causes a variety of health problems. “Social Security affords us what little we have. I am very glad that Congressman Michaud is here today to listen to our stories. I believe more lawmakers need to understand that our retirement security system helps so many people.”

Participants also called for congressional action to strengthen the country’s retirement security system and urged Congressman Michaud to support policies that ensure Mainers can retire and age in dignity including establishing a Social Security caregiver credit for individuals who leave the workforce to care for a loved one for an extended period of time, as well as increasing the cap on Social Security taxes so the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share into a system that works for everyone.

“If there is one thing our country’s retirement system was not prepared for, it’s the extreme income inequality that exists in our economy today,” said Jim Wellehan, owner of Lamey-Wellehan Shoes. “Social Security is not in crisis, but it does face a long-term deficit. If we want Social Security to be put on sound economic footing, we need to scrap this cap and make sure everyone pays their fair share into a program where everyone benefits.”

Currently, no Social Security payroll tax is paid on earnings above $117,000. An individual’s effective tax rate for Social Security payroll taxes decreases for every dollar they make above the $117,000 cap – effectively creating a tax loophole for millionaires. Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) has proposed the “Strengthen Social Security Act” which would increase the cap on Social Security taxes as well as calculate cost of living adjustments using a Consumer Price Index for Elderly Consumers (CPI-E), which is considered a more fair and accurate assessment of cost of living increases for seniors.

In addition to changes to the Social Security program, advocates called for an expansion of the Social Security caregiver credit for individuals who leave the workforce to care for a loved one for an extended period of time.

“I care for my mother in-person nearly every day of the year. I provide meals, make appointments, do groceries, pharmacy, laundry, cleaning and help to meet all other basic needs for her,” said Susann Pelletier, who lives in Lewiston and takes care of her 92-year-old mother. “Because I chose to stay at home with my child in formative years and now am providing care for my mother, my professional career has mostly been comprised of part-time positions. I have paid so little over the years into the Social Security system that my monthly social security check when I reach retirement will put my income below the poverty line, if I were on my own.”

A 2013 report released by Social Security Works found that in Maine almost a quarter of the population receives benefits from Social Security, benefits that account for 7.6% of the state’s total personal income. The program also has a sizable impact on keeping Maine seniors out of poverty. From 2009-2011 it was estimated that almost 40% of Mainers over 65 were kept out of poverty because of Social Security.

The Social Security program not only provides monthly benefits to retirees, it helps keep thousands of Maine children from falling into poverty. In 2010, more than 13,000 children in the 2nd Congressional District were beneficiaries of Social Security, more than 24,000 children statewide.

“Through their hard work and payroll tax contributions, Maine families earn Social Security’s retirement, disability and survivorship protections,” said MaryLou Beaver, Maine Director of Every Child Matters, a children’s advocacy group. “They know that if something were to happen to them, their children would have a safety net.”

“If today has shown us anything, it’s that our retirement system has touched the lives of thousands of Mainers in so many ways,” said MPA Androscoggin Valley Organizer Gen Lysen. “There are a number of proposals in Congress today that would do much to bolster and make our retirement system more accessible and fair. We can move beyond protecting Social Security – beating back cuts to benefits, eligibility changes and privatization – to strengthening the system, now and for generations to come.”

MPA Ambassadors meet with Senator King’s staff for “Your Government, Your Neighborhood”

MPA Ambassadors meet with Senator King’s staff for “Your Government, Your Neighborhood”

On June 12, 6 leaders from the Maine People’s Alliance met with Katie Fellows, Senator King’s in-district staff during their “Your Government, You’re Neighborhood” office hours in Lewiston. They each shared how Social Security has touched their lives, and how the issue affects them personally. Kellie reviewed the pillars of the Harkin/Sanchez bill – CPI-E, benefit increases and raising and scrapping the cap. Susann, who would directly benefit from the Caregiver credit proposal, shared her story (she took time out of the workforce to care for her daughter, and elderly mother) and she highlighted how the policy would help her family and her community. Jim shared his story about the survivor benefit (his Dad passed away when he was 18 and in college, when the student benefit was still there for him), and highlighted the need to reinstate this policy to help low-income youth stay in college during a very hard time.

MPA members to Sen. Collins: Expand Social Security

MPA members to Sen. Collins: Expand Social Security

Re-posted from Maine People’s Alliance

On Thursday, May 15, members of the Maine People’s Alliance visited the Bangor office of Senator Susan Collins to deliver petition signatures from Mainers across the state asking her to sign on to a bill to protect and expand Social Security.

Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) has proposed the “Strengthen Social Security Act” which would strengthen the retirement security system by increasing the cap on Social Security taxes so the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share into a system that works for everyone. The bill is seen as a common-sense alternative to cuts proposed by conservative members of Congress.

“For the thousands of retired or nearly-retired Mainers like me, cuts to Social Security could mean the difference between living in dignity or poverty,” said Skip Worcester of Bangor. “Senator Susan Collins talks often about working hard on behalf of Maine’s aging population; it’s time to demonstrate leadership on this issue by co-sponsoring Senator Harkin’s bill.”

Mainers also presented the Senator’s staff with a stool to symbolize the “legs” of retirement security – the public systems like Social Security and Medicare, as well as employer-based pension plans and private savings – to serve as a reminder that all three legs are instrumental in a strong retirement security system.

“Even though I worked until I was 78 years old before starting to collect Social Security, my monthly benefit still does not cover the four (or five) week span before the next benefit arrives.  I have to dip into my savings by the end of that period and they are running low very quickly,” said Eileen Ward of Glenburn. “I loved my career as a social worker but couldn’t save significantly at the same time that I was paying off my mortgage and car, and working at a nonprofit meant there was no pension plan.”

In Maine, the state with the oldest population in the nation, almost a quarter of the population receives benefits from Social Security, benefits that account for 7.6% of the state’s total personal income. The program also has a sizable impact on keeping Maine seniors out of poverty. From 2009-2011 it was estimated that almost 40% of Mainers over 65 were kept out of poverty because of Social Security.

Congressional Republicans have attempted to pass various forms of cuts to Social Security, including a plan to tie benefits to a chained Consumer Price Index (CPI), reducing critical benefits for millions of retirees. More recently Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) has included a fast-tracking process in his latest budget proposal that would allow Congress to expedite cuts to Social Security and Medicare, potentially further eroding a vital system for millions of Americans.

“For 78 years, even as our nation endured wars, political turmoil and economic crises, Social Security has never missed a payment; it’s paid every dollar on time and in full,” added Ward. “Maine’s elected officials in Washington must reject any attempts to cut benefits and instead make sure that the Social Security system I’ve paid into my entire working life is protected and strengthened for my generation, and for generations to come.”