Faith Groups Wade-in on Social Security Debate

Religious organizations encouraged Congress to consider compassion, economic security and fairness when modifying the Social Security system

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May 3, 2005|12:51 pm

A group of 16 religious organizations, including several prominent Christian mainline denominations, released a statement encouraging the U.S. Congress to strengthen America’s Social Security program, on April 26, 2005.

“We the undersigned religious organizations come from diverse religious traditions, yet our communities speak with one voice on the importance of providing compassionate care for the elderly, widows, orphans, and persons with disabilities,” the groups wrote.

The statement was released as the Congress began discussions on the future of Social Security and President Bush ended his 60-day campaign to dramatically reform the current Social Security system.

Under Bush’s proposal, benefits for high and middle-income retirees will be cut and new private investment accounts will be added to the retirement system for the younger generation.

The religious groups did not directly comment on Bush’s proposal but expressed support for the “present overall structure” of the Social Security system.

“Its present overall structure--universal, compulsory, an earned right, wage-related rather than means-tested, and protected against inflation--has served our country well,” the groups wrote. “The Social Security system has demonstrated the positive role that government can play in advancing the common good. Future generations deserve nothing less.”

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The groups encouraged Congressional leaders to consider five ethical and practical aspects in evaluating proposed changes to the Social Security system: Compassion, economic security, fairness, savings and pensions, and stewardship of the public trust.

“We believe the strength of our country is measured best by the compassion we show to one another in our times of greatest need and vulnerability,” the groups wrote.

“We will seek to engage with members of Congress and the public to help discern the best way to strengthen and preserve the Social Security system so that future generations may continue to benefit, as we do now.”

The following is the full text of the statement:

To Preserve and Strengthen Social Security: Religious Organization Statement of Principles

We the undersigned religious organizations come from diverse religious traditions, yet our communities speak with one voice on the importance of providing compassionate care for the elderly, widows, orphans, and persons with disabilities. It is the birthright of each person to live a life with dignity and with access to the basic necessities of life. It is because of our deep moral concern for the most vulnerable in our society that many of our organizations actively supported the creation of the Social Security system in 1935 and many of its later improvements.

Today, we celebrate the tremendous success of the Social Security system. For over sixty years, it has provided the foundation for a compassionate society by providing basic economic security for all participants. Its present overall structure--universal, compulsory, an earned right, wage-related rather than means-tested, and protected against inflation--has served our country well. In 2004, the combined programs of Social Security provided benefits to 48 million people B including retirees, survivors, and eight million people living with disabilities. Survivor benefits supported more than five million children. Without this basic income security, over 50 percent of women and 40 percent of men over age 65 would likely be living in poverty. The Social Security system has demonstrated the positive role that government can play in advancing the common good. Future generations deserve nothing less.

It is our common concern for the economic well being of future generations that brings our nation to its current discussion of the future of the Social Security system. It is a timely and appropriate discussion. It warrants careful reflection concerning the basic principles upon which the present system was founded and the moral values which bring us together in common purpose as a nation. We seek to contribute to this discussion by offering the following principles, informed by our moral beliefs and religious experience, as a basis for evaluating proposed changes to the Social Security system.

Compassion. As citizens and residents of this country, we have a collective responsibility to care for one another. The federal government should continue its important, effective, and efficient role promoting a compassionate society through the Social Security system.

Economic security. Social insurance should remain a basic part of our society. Disability and survivor insurance must be maintained. Security for the elderly, survivors, and persons with disabilities should not be left to the vagaries of fragile family support systems, voluntary charity, or economic cycles.

Equity, fairness, and progressivity. The present overall structure of the Social Security system --universal, compulsory employee and employer contributions, an earned right, wage-related rather than means-tested, and protected against inflation--should be preserved and strengthened. Overall, the costs and benefits should be distributed progressively in proportion to each person=s ability to pay and level of need. Care must be given to assure that segments of the population are not systematically disadvantaged due to gender, race, or marital status.

Savings and pensions. Social Security is intended to be the third leg of a three-legged stool, the other two legs being personal savings and employer-provided pensions. Congress should encourage personal savings and employer pensions in addition to (not as a substitute for) the current system, and, especially, it should explore ways to help low- and middle-income households save more for their future.

Stewardship of the public trust. Congress has a moral obligation to fulfill its trust responsibilities to those who have contributed through their payroll taxes to the Social Security trust fund. Congress must also assure that future beneficiaries will receive benefits sufficient to meet their basic needs, that trust fund revenues and expenditures balance over time, and that future generations will not be unfairly burdened by this generation’s debts.

We believe the strength of our country is measured best by the compassion we show to one another in our times of greatest need and vulnerability. In the months ahead, we will continue to look at new proposals to modify the Social Security system through the framework of our moral beliefs and religious experiences. We will seek to engage with members of Congress and the public to help discern the best way to strengthen and preserve the Social Security system so that future generations may continue to benefit, as we do now.

Organizational sign-ons as of April 26, 2005

African Methodist Episcopal Church

Call to Renewal

Church Women United

Episcopal Church USA

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Friends Committee on National Legislation

Jewish Council for Public Affairs

National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd

National Council of the Churches in Christ in the USA

National Council of Jewish Women

NETWORK: A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Washington Office

Union for Reform Judaism

Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations

United Church of Christ Justice & Witness Ministries

The United Methodist Church - General Board of Church and Society

 

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