IRS Ruling a Victory for Married Same-Sex Couples Across the Country!

Thanks to the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service for doing the right thing on August 29. Those of us who live in states, like Pennsylvania, that have their own version of the Defense of Marriage Act (or a constitutional ban in other states on same-sex marriage) will now, at last, have the full federal economic benefits and protections of marriage as long as you were married somewhere that recognizes your marriage. Meanwhile cases challenging state DOMA’s and constitutional bans in federal court on gay marriage need to go forward. The PA ACLU is leading such a case here in Pennsylvania; this groundswell of support for equality WILL succeed. And like in the Loving v. Virginia case, we will eventually have Freedom to Marry for all consenting adults regardless of sexual orientation.

Women's Law Project Blog

Tara R. Pfeifer, WLP Staff Attorney

The Internal Revenue Service and the Treasury Department announced yesterday that the federal government will recognize the marriages of legally married same-sex couples for all federal tax purposes, regardless of where those couples reside.

This landmark ruling comes on the heels of the United States Supreme Court’s decision in U.S. v. Windsor in which the Court overturned a key provision (Section 3) of the Defense of Marriage Act.  Section 3 defined the terms “marriage” and “spouse” for purposes of federal law as pertaining only to legal unions between one man and one woman.  Yesterday’s announcement clarifies that when it comes to evaluating the federal tax status of same-sex married couples, it is the “place of celebration” – where the wedding took place – that controls, not the state where the couple resides.  Thus, same-sex couples that marry in one of the states where same-sex…

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Montana’s Judge Baugh Must Go!

Are you upset about Billings (Yellowstone County), Montana Judge G. Todd Baugh’s alleged misuse of his judicial powers in a rape case in Billings, Montana?  Here’s something you can do about it.

A petition has been started on the Ultraviolet website regarding Judge G. Todd Baugh.  In part, it says,

Earlier this week, Montana Judge G. Todd Baugh gave a teacher who raped his 14-year-old student a 30-day jail sentence. Even worse, the judge said the girl was “as much in control of the situation” as her rapist and that she was “older than her chronological age.” THIS is rape culture at its worst.

And here’s an additional piece of information: this young girl committed suicide in 2010 after the 2007 series of rapes perpetrated by Stacey Rambold.

There are several petitions out on this issue. One goes directly to Judge Baugh. A second one goes to the Montana Secretary of State. This one goes to the Montana Supreme Court and the Montana Judicial Standards Commission.

The one going to the Department of State is inappropriately targeted. Oversight for the judicial system in not held within the Department of State. That’s because of our constitutional requirement that we keep separate the duties and responsibilities of the executive and judicial branches of government.

These two judicial-branch entities in Montana have oversight on judicial affairs and the conduct of the judiciary.  So this site is the CORRECT place to go if you want to sign a petition calling on the removal of MT’s Judge Baugh.

Once again, you want to let Montana know that Judge Baugh must go, click here to sign. Thanks!

Where Is the ‘Dream’?

Another great commentary on the current state of civil rights in light of the 50th Anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington.

Nel's New Day

Fifty years ago today, Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I have a dream” speech at the March on Washington. Congress passed the Civil Rights Act passed the year after King’s speech and followed that with the Voting Rights Act. The United States, however, has failed to address the March’s goals for economic opportunity and equality, ten demands in civil rights legislation, public school desegregation, voting rights, job training, and an increased minimum wage.

  • Congressional comprehensive and effective civil rights legislation without compromise or filibuster-to guarantee all Americans access to all public accommodations, decent housing, adequate and integrated education, and the right to vote.
  • Withholding of federal funds from all programs in which discrimination exists.
  • Desegregation of all school districts in 1963.
  • Enforcement of the fourteenth Amendment, reducing Congressional representation of states where citizens are disfranchised.
  • A new Executive Order banning discrimination in all housing supported by federal funds.
  • Authority for…

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March on Washington 50 in 140 Characters

Today I listened to the 50th Anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington speeches at the “Let Freedom Ring” program held on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.  It was broadcast on C-SPAN.  Throughout the broadcast, I listened, tweeted, retweeted, and commented on what I was seeing and hearing.

Here is what I heard as well as my thoughts in a series of 140 characters.

Original Tweets:

@BarackObama Fathers, mothers, former prisoners, people of all colors, children, lgbt… They are all marching 4 Freedom & Justice #mow50

@BarackObama Medgar Evans, Cheney, #MLK didn’t die in vain. We still require vigilance. We will move forward 4 #CivilRts #jobs #Justice

@BarackObama the flame of justice never died despite the indignities placed on the disenfranchised. They marched. #letfreedomring 4 all #mow50 (Retweeted by @Penny_G during program plus one comment from Richard Punko:@tosti_vasey Amen! We must rekindle that fame and passion and March again. Tyranny of rich, powerful, bigoted conservatives must not prevail)

@BarackObama 5 decades ago today we came together to call for the full promise for all as written in our Declaration of Independence #MOW50

#LetFreedomRing bell from church in Birmingham that was burned in 60s just rung at Lincoln memorial w @BarackObama & King family #MOW50

We must keep justice & freedom alive. #LetFreedomRing for all. Gay straight, men women children, people of color. Rev Bernice King #mow50

Rev Bernice King praises inclusion of women and 3 current/former Presidents on #mow50. Didn’t happen 50 years ago.

@billclinton We need to stop complaining about Congress gridlock & (in summary) go for jobs, justice, peace, & environmental safety. #mow50@billclinton in the shadow of Lincoln’s statue, we still need to walk against the racial divide to change America to #LetFreedomRing #mow50

We know how #mlk would have reacted to recent cutting of #votingrights, #immigration, etc.

@JimmyCarter thanks #MLK 4 #civilrights. In 40′ & 50’s I saw black schools without building cause my community wouldn’t provide buses #mow50

@BarackObama, @JimmyCarter, @billclinton, & Michele Obama on #mow50 stage w #mlkfamily & Rep. Lewis Big leadership change from 50 yrs ago.

@Oprah as we reaffirm our support of #MLKDream, we too can be a “drum major” for #Justice. Bells will toll @ 3:00 to #LetFreedomRing forever

Lynda Johnson Robb: my father pushed 4 the 64 Civil Rights Act, 65 Voting Rights Act, & 67 Fair Housing Act he heart #civilrights #MOW50

@revalsharpton “we will beat the James Crow, Jr Esq” program of voter suppression, stand your ground, etc. #MOW50 #Racism

Sign seen @ #mow50 “We March for jobs, justice, & peace.” Still true 50 years after #MLKDream speech. Everyone join in!

Delores Huerta si se puede if you go back to your community and bring all to the fight for justice. #mow50 #Women #CivilRts #lgbt, etc.

Alan van Capalle “The ark of justice won’t bend for all without your work & help.” #MOW50

@repdonnaedwards we must raise our voices for voting rights, ending violence, etc. What rights & fights will u raise your voice? #mlkdream

Modified Tweets and Comments:

Right on! MT @civilrightsorg so says @BarackObama: “We were told that growing inequality is the cost of prosperity.” #mow50 #endpoverty

MT @blackvoices: “The men & women who gathered 50 years ago weren’t here seeking some abstract goal, they were seeking jobs” Obama Still are

#Jobs #Justice MT @HalfinTen Don’t Forget: Organizers of original #mow called 4 min. wage of > $13 in 2013 dollars #raisethewage #mlkdream50

We must fight back. RT @p_majority RT @repjohnlewis: To those who have said, “Be patient and wait,” we must say that we cannot be patient.  (Retweeted by @p_majority during program)

As part of #jobs, #justice & #peace… RT @NationalNOW We need a living wage! thinkprogress.org/economy/2013/0… Via @thinkprogress #MOW50

Absolutely! @repdonnaedwards u go girl! RT @NCJW “We must lift our voices for just wages” Rep Donna Edwards #mow50

Retweets:

RT @thecyclemsnbc The President reminds us: the measure of progress isn’t how many blacks join the ranks of millionaires, but how many join the middle class.

RT @Jenalenglish Pleased to hear Obama addressing poverty in the context of freedom. Because there is no liberty without livelihood. #MOW50

RT @LAKane H/T to @billclinton: “A great democracy does not make it harder to vote than to buy an assault weapon.” thkpr.gs/18liNa0 #dreamday (Retweeted by @JCWPolitics during program plus Comment after program ended by @LAKand: @JCWPolitics @tosti_vasey, thanks for the RT!)

RT @whitehouse President Obama: “Because they marched, a Civil Rights law was passed. Because they marched, a Voting Rights law was signed.” #MLKDream50

RT @EdgeofSports “Our only hope today lies in recapturing the revolutionary spirit declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.” – MLK

RT @chucktodd The 3 presidents speaking, representing 3 generations/experiences on issue of race. Carter born in 20s, Clinton in the 40s, Obama in the 60s

RT @GabrielaRM “We may have come here in different ships, but we’re all in the same boat now,” Rep. John Lewis #AdvancingTheDream #MOW2013

RT @SDACLU 50 years later… those signs that say white and colored are gone… but there are still invisible signs. @repjohnlewis #endracialprofiling

RT @OccupyWallSt One of the goals of the March on Washington was a $2 minimum wage. In 2013 dollars, that would be $15.34 #MLKfb.me/1tmtAW09l

RT @NAACP Congressman @repjohnlewis: We have come a long way in 50 years, but we have a long way to go before we can fulfill King’s dream. #MOW50

RT @ply_25 “Justice delayed is justice denied”— THANK YOU, Ellie Smeal, @FemMajority! #herstorymow50

RT @MSNBC President Obama will deliver remarks at 2:45pmET at #MOW50. Tune into @msnbc for special coverage: onmsnbc.co/fweR3M #AdvancingTheDream (note: It was actually just after 3 pm when President Obama spoke)

RT @NAACP Caroline Kennedy: It is our turn to live up to the dreams of the last generation and work together for a better world. #MOW50

RT @feministteacher In 1963 there were 4 African Americans in Congress; today there are 44. #dreamday #MoW50

RT @politico Today in 1963, in preparation for the March on Washington, the Pentagon readied 19,000 troops in the suburbs. More: politi.co/15jjY82

RT @WomenInTheArts “We must ensure that the story of women in the movement is told” #MarchonWashington ow.ly/olE0L #linkatlunch @msmagazine

RT @civilrightsorg We are far from justice when an #LGBTQ person can be fired just for who they are! Support #ENDA – employment nondiscrimination act! #MOW50

RT @HalfinTen .@MartinLutherK True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice #talkpoverty #action4thedream #MLKDream50

RT @jbouie If “race agitator” was the “race hustler” of the 1960s, I’m pretty sure every civil rights leader at the time would have been called one.

ALICE PAUL – CRUSADER FOR WOMEN – JANUARY 11 BIRTHDAY

In honor of Women’s Equality Day (August 26). Alice Paul spearheaded the final long-time nationwide effort to get the 19th amendment to the US Constitution passed. And once that occurred in 1920, she wrote the Equal Rights Amendment; yet, almost a century later, it has yet to become part of the US Constitution. It’s time for women to achieve full legal equality.

Change in Blog Title

I just wanted to send out a message to my followers. I decided to change the title of my blog from “Joanne Tosti-Vasey Blogging for Equality” to “Civil Rights Advocacy.”  So when you get an email in the future saying something like “New post on Civil Rights Advocacy,” you will know it was from me.

Meanwhile check out the archives of my blog since I started blogging on December 14, 2012.  The archive list is located on the right hand side of my home page.  My most frequent topic areas to date are:

Campus Violence, Children, Civil Rights, Discrimination,, Domestic Violence, Economic Justice, ERA (Equal Rights Amendment), Gay Marriage, Gender Equality, Health Care, LGBTQ Issues, Marriage and Marriage Equality, NOW Inc. (National Organization for Women), President Barack Obama, Racism, Rape, Reproductive Justice, Sexism, Sexual Assault, Stalking, US Constitution, US House of Representatives, US Senate, US Supreme Court, VAWA (Violence Against Women Act), Victims of Violence, and Women’s Equality.

I’d love to hear back from you on all of these blogs; comments are ALWAYS welcome!

Thanks

Social Security Needs to Give Credit for Caregiving!

Today is the 78th birthday of Social Security. As part of the celebration NOW’s Say It Sister! blog has organized a blog and twitter carnival. Central Oregon Coast NOW is one of the followers of my blog AND one of today’s bloggers for this carnival. Amanda LePine, a member of Central Oregon Coast NOW raises a very good demand – GIVE credit to Social Security for Caregiving. Which I agree with. I discussed this very issue, presenting such a proposal to strengthen Social Security towards the end of my posting this morning.
Working together, we may get this done. It may take a while as we will need to replace the Tea Party members of Congress who want to eviscerate our safety net. But we will get it done. Meanwhile check out some of the other blogs on this issue today at National NOW’s Say It Sister! blog.

Central Oregon Coast NOW

By Amanda LePine

Member, Central Oregon Coast NOW

Many women are in the same circumstances that I am in!

None of the extensive work I do on my husband’s behalf is reflected in my Social Security benefits. 

My Social Security benefits are greatly diminished because I stayed home to raise my two children.

After they were grown, then I went to work in health care. 

In January of 2006 my husband had an Agent Orange-related stroke.

Any opportunity I may have had to work evaporated.

My husband needs a caregiver all day every day. 

As his sole caregiver I work 24/7.

I haven’t had a full night’s rest since 2006.

Any negotiations with the Veteran’s Administration are taken care of by me.

For all appointments I’m the decision-maker, and I drive and accompany my husband.  All of my work goes unrecognized by Social Security.

 

Question:  What’s wrong with this ‘picture’?

If you can’t figure it out, have…

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Let’s Strengthen, Not Weaken Social Security

Social Security.  It’s been around for 78 years.  It’s a benefit that everyone (and their family members) who has worked in the United States is eligible to receive. You pay into the system when you are working and then when you retire or become disabled, you, your spouse, and your dependent children receive monthly benefits based on you earned income history.  Currently almost 58 million Americans receive $816 billion annually in Social Security benefits.  Most (70%) are retirees and their family members.  The rest are either disabled (19%) or are survivors (11%) of a deceased spouse or parent who would have otherwise qualified for Social Security.  We all like, expect, and will, if not already, depend upon Social Security to sustain our financial well-being and independence.

Dwight D. Eisenhower Supported Social Security

Yet it is under attack.  And has been for almost a decade.  Until 2005, both political parties fully supported Social Security.  President Dwight D. Eisenhower in a letter to his brother Edgar on November 8, 1954 said:

Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt (you possibly know his background), a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.

This was right after he responded to a letter to a constituent shortly after signing a bill into law expanding Social Security.  In that letter dated September 30, 1954, President Eisenhower said:

The actual fact is that by and large the productivity of a national economy must [emphasis added], at any given time, support the people then living in the nation. This means that, roughly, the people from twenty to sixty bear the burden of supporting themselves, and in addition, support those from birth to twenty years of age, and those from sixty to eighty.

The Three-Legged Stool

At that point in our history, both sides of the aisle fully supported the idea of Social Security as the third leg of the financial stool (the other two legs being pensions and savings).

Over the years fewer and fewer people have had employment that contained a defined benefit pension.  And fewer people have retirement savings. People need all three legs.  With the other two legs being cut or chipped away at, Social Security remains potentially their only source of income should they retire or become disabled.

The Bush Administration Starts the Attacks on Social Security

The attacks on Social Security really started hard and heavy in 2005 when then President George W. Bush called for the privatization of Social Security and a redesign of Medicare that created the so-called “doughnut hole.”  I first started working on this issue that year, organizing a protest rally on the Penn State University-University Park Campus when Bush came to town to try to tell the Future Farmers of America that Social Security was a lost cause.

Over 500 people were at that protest.  Holding up signs like:

 

 2005 Rally at Penn State University Protesting the Privatization of Social Security

Bush is Wrong! Ike was Right! Hands Off My Social Security: 2005 Rally at Penn State University Protesting the Privatization of Social Security

  • Hands Off My Social Security
  • Bush is WRONG!
  • Ike was RIGHT!
Sign at Protest that says: "No! No! No Social Security Privatization Fiddle"

2005 Rally at Penn State University Protesting the Privatization of Social Security

  •  No! No! No Social Security Privatization Fiddle and

 

Banner at 2005 PSU Protest saying: "Social Security: Don't Gamble with Our Future"

Don’t Gamble with Our Future: 2005 Rally at Penn State University Protesting the Privatization of Social Security

  • Social Security: Don’t Gamble with OUR Future (referring to privatizing and placing Social Security payments in the volatile stock market).

Organizations and individuals fought back and Social Security was not privatized but Medicare was compromised when the prescription drug benefits (Part D) were written into law in 2006. This hole forces individuals on Medicare in 2013 to pay 100% of their drug costs once  you reach their Medicare Part D plan’s initial coverage limit of $2,970 and ends when you spend a total of $4,750.

This was the opening gambit to destroy Social Security. These attacks are continuing to this day.  Now it is the Tea Party Republicans who are doing the attacking.  And if they succeed, women and people of color in particular will pay the penalty.

The Seven Principals to Strengthen Social Security

Rather than decimate our safety net that we all paid for and for which we are due, we should be strengthening rather than weakening Social Security. According to StrengthenSocialSecurity.org – a coalition of over 300 national and state organizations representing over 50 million Americans, there are seven principles to fully support and strengthen our Social Security system:

  1. Social Security did not cause the federal deficit; its benefits should not be cut to reduce the deficit.  And anyone who tells you Social Security is going broke is either misinformed or deliberately trying to mislead. The Social Security Trust Fund is viable through 2033.
  2. Social Security should not be privatized in whole or in part.  Unlike Wall St. and the stock market, Social Security is a reliable, risk free source of income. These benefits are guaranteed every month and are adjusted to the rise in the cost of living.
  3. Social Security should not be means-tested.
  4. Congress should act in the coming few years to close Social Security’s funding gap by requiring those who are most able to afford it to pay somewhat more. This means that the cap on payment into Social Security should be lifted for higher income individuals.
  5. Social Security’s retirement age, already scheduled to increase from 65 to 67, should not be raised further. Increasing the retirement age disproportionately affects low-income women. The life expectancy for low-income women has decreased over the last 25 years and they are more likely to have jobs that compromise their health. Increasing the retirement age would amount to a 15% benefit cut for low-income women workers.
  6. Social Security’s benefits should not be reduced, including [benefit-reducing] changes to the COLA or the benefit formula. Republican leaders want to impose a less accurate COLA formula – the chained-CPI. The current COLA (Cost of Living Alliance) formula is based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI) which estimates the price of stuff we need (like food) changes over time.  The chained-CPI assumes that when the prices of something goes up, people will automatically replace it for something cheaper (e.g., beef would be substituted with chicken and maybe even eventually with dog food); therefore the COLA can be calculated at a lower rising level.  That con only work for the short-term since in some cases (e.g., health care) there are no substitutes and for others (e.g., the food example), people either can’t or won’t go that far without compromising their lives. Over a 30-year retirement, that means that a person would be losing a full month’s worth of Social Security every year. For senior women who often don’t have extra savings or a pension, the gap between their regular expenses and what would be covered over time under a chained-CPI would be disastrous.
  7. Social Security’s benefits should be increased for those who are most disadvantaged. This would include low-income workers, LGBTQ families in states that don’t recognize same-sex marriages, college students whose working parent has died, and people who have to drop out of the workforce to provide caregiving to their family members.

Increasing the Benefits for the Most Disadvantaged

I’d like to look at this last principle in more depth by focusing on women and Social Security because women make up the combined majority of people in these four groups.  So, why should benefits for these four groups be increased?

Low Income Workers

Low Income workers are disproportionately made up of women and people of color. Living hand to mouth, this group of working-age people have little ability to build up any retirement savings.  So one leg of the stool is cut very short.  And unlike high-income workers who worked at a company with full benefits, they are less likely to have any retirement pension at all.  The second leg is also cut very short. As a result, nearly 80% of a low-income worker’s retirement income is made up entirely of Social Security benefits.  And because of the cutbacks in Medicare with the aforementioned doughnut hole, this group of retired people – mostly women who live longer – are further squeezed.  This group of retirees, rather than having their livelihood threatened by a chained-CPI reduction should, instead have and enhanced benefit by creating a Special Minimum amount of Social Security benefits for lifetime low-income earners.

In 2012, the National Organization for Women Foundation, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research released a report called “Breaking the Social Security Glass Ceiling: A Proposal on How to Modernize Women’s Benefits.”  This report presents a proposal to enhance this baseline level of Social Security benefits for low-income workers. They suggest improving the Special Minimum Benefit by:

  • Increasing the benefit to equal 150 percent of the aged poverty level for workers with 30 years of credit;
  • Reducing the wages required to receive a year of credit toward the minimum benefit to the amount required for four Social Security credits;
  • Indexing future increases in the minimum benefit to growth in wages rather than the CPI;
  • Providing up to ten family service years of credit toward the computation of the benefit; and
  • Increasing the Supplemental Security Income (aka SSI) general income exclusion to $100 and adjust it in future years for inflation.

LGBTQ Families

In June, the US Supreme Court, in a case known as United States v. Windsor, overturned the federal Defense of Marriage Act. They declared that committed same-sex couples who have had their relationships legally recognized as marriage must receive all of the federal benefits, including Social Security, associated with legally-recognized marriages.

Same-sex couples, who live in states that don’t recognize their marriages, however are currently out of luck.  In the 37 states without marriage equality, same-sex couples and their families are considered legal strangers. A same-sex household with one wage earner forfeits $675 monthly, the equivalent of two months’ worth of groceries for two people.

The Glass Ceiling report makes the following proposal to address continuing discrimination in these 37 states that don’t recognize same-sex marriages:

  • Amend the Social Security Act to define “wife,” and “husband” so that they no longer rely on gender-specific pronouns;
  • Provide eligibility to spousal benefits to individuals who are members of same-sex marriages, domestic partnerships, civil unions, or any other such relationship as the states, by law, may prescribe;
  • Extend to the children of these relationships, benefits under the same terms and conditions as children of heterosexual couples; and
  • Directly address the issue of disparate state-based DOMA laws by declaring that all federal family eligibility determinations under Social Security be exempted from the provisions of state-based Defense of Marriage Acts.

College Students and their Parents

Up until 1981, students attending college whose working parent had died, become disabled, or retired were eligible for Social Security benefits under their parent’s Social Security until they reached the age of 22.  That year, all post-secondary benefits were eliminated.  Most of the recipients of this benefit were disproportionately children of parents in blue-collar jobs, African-Americans, and those with lower incomes than other college students.  As a result of this change in the law, single parents—again most often women—would often defer saving funds for their own retirement in order to assist their kids through college. This decision results either in a a lower level of retirement funds for his/her parent(s) and/or a reduced likelihood of the student attending college if the parent and child are unable to fund the student’s post-secondary education.

The Glass Ceiling report makes the following proposal to address this issue:

  • Reinstate benefits for children of disabled or deceased workers until age 22 when the child is attending a college or vocational school on a full-time basis.

Caregivers

In addition to the disparity in pay between men and women, one of the main reasons women’s Social Security benefits are lower on average than that of men is that they are more likely to take time off from work to care for children or elderly and sick adult family members (spouses, parents, in-laws, and other family members).  The Social Security Administration uses a calculation known as the “average Indexed Monthly earnings primary insurance amount” (aIMe PIa) to calculate the benefit levels of all beneficiaries. Because of the way that the Social Security Administration calculates the benefit level, any temporary interruption in one’s income can significantly reduce how much Social Security a person can receive.

This affects single women as well as married women since both can and do have children and do have other family members that may need some care. Currently the only way to compensate for this care-giving duty is to provide the caregiver a spousal add-on benefit. This unfair treatment of caregivers in the Social Security formula needs to be changed so that we can continue to care for our family members without jeopardizing the financial security of the caregiver.  The Glass Ceiling report also addresses this issue by recommending a change in the way the aIMe PIa is calculated:

  • Compute the AIME PIA by imputing an annual wage for each family service year so that total earnings for the year would equal 50 percent of that year’s average annual wage index. Family service years would be those in which an individual provides care to children under the age of six or to elderly or disabled family members. Up to five family service years could be granted to any worker.

These Improvements are Affordable: With Some Changes

We can pay for these improvements, and simultaneously ensure the solvency of our Social Security system for 75 years or more. Changes to how Social Security could be funded are well-known. We just need to do it!  The funds for these changes are available IF we:

  • Remove the cap on wages subject to the Social Security payroll tax.  Rather than capping employee, employers, and the self-employed person’s payroll taxes on the first  $113,700 of income, the law should be changed to entirely remove this cap and require millionaires and billionaires to pay the same rate as the rest of us.  This one change would provide most of the needed resources.  According to Virginia Reno and Joni Lavery of the National Academy of Social Insurance, this option [by itself] would eliminate much of Social Security’s current actuarial deficit by producing revenue equal to about 2.17 percent of taxable payroll.”
  • Slowly increase the Social Security contribution rate by 1/20 of one percent over the next 20 years.  This option, according to Reno and Lavery “would provide revenue equal to 1.34 percent of taxable payroll.”
  • Treat all salary deductions like 401(K) plans.  Currently we pay Social Security and Medicare taxes on any retirement plan, such as a 401(K), a 403(b), or a 527 plan.  We do not pay these taxes on that portion of our salary we put aside to pay for any flexible spending account, such as a medical savings account.  If we were to  treat and tax flexible spending accounts just like our retirement plans, Reno and Lavery report that we would provide an about  an additional 0.48 percent of taxable payroll.

These three changes amount to 3.99% of payroll taxes and would fully close the current actuarial deficit (2.67 percent of payroll) according to Reno and Lavery.  The additional 1.32% would fund the proposals to strengthen Social Security as recommended in the Glass Ceiling report without hurting women, people of color, LGBTQ people, caregivers, college student, and low-income families.

The funds are there.  Let’s make it happen. Let’s strengthen, not weaken Social Security for everyone.

 

Third Circuit Upholds Girls’ Free Speech Rights in School

In September 2011, just before I stepped down as Pennsylvania NOW President, PA NOW along with the Feminist Majority, Legal Momentum, and several other feminist organizations signed onto an amicus brief written by the Women’s Law Project in support of two middle school girls from the Easton Area (PA) School District who participated in a youth breast cancer awareness program by wearing “I ♥ boobies” breast cancer awareness bracelets to school.

"I ♥ Boobies" bracelets made by the Keep a Breast Foundation

Sample “I ♥ Boobies” bracelets that were banned by the Easton Area School District; photo courtesy of Keep a Breast Foundation

Kayla Martinez and Brianna Hawk, then seventh and eighth graders, were suspended for wearing Keep A Breast bracelets on Breast Cancer Awareness Day.  Subsequently the school district instituted a district wide ban on the bracelets because they were supposedly “lewd” statements about women’s bodies.  These young women, citing 1st Amendment rights, refused to take them off and then filed suit through their parents after the district-wide ban was instituted.

On August 5, 2013, the 14-member 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 9-5 en banc decision, upheld the District Court injunction against this ban on educational free speech.  They looked at the question of whether or not speech about women’s bodies and their health could [be] interpret[ed] as lewd, vulgar, profane, or offensive [when that] speech could also plausibly be interpreted as commenting on a political or social issue.”  The court decided that breast cancer is a social issue exception and thus protected speech.  This means that talk about breasts and breast cancer is protected speech in schools throughout Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey, the three states that fall under the jurisdiction of the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals.

According to the Keep A Breast Foundation, the makers of this bracelet, the 3rd Circuit Courts decision

“[M]arks the first time a federal court of appeals has ruled that the First Amendment protects student speech that is plausibly understood as commenting on political or social issues.”

The Court’s bottom-line statement in its en banc decision, I believe, says it all:

“The bracelets are intended to be and they can reasonably be viewed as speech designed to raise awareness of breast cancer and to reduce stigma associated with openly discussing breast health.”

Thanks to Mary Catherine Roper of the ACLU of Pennsylvania  for taking this case to the 3rd Circuit and to Terry Fromson and staff of the Women’s Law Project for working on this issue in support of young women’s free speech rights when talking and taking a stand on their bodies and their health!