In the campaign proposal of what he’d do for older Americans as president, Biden said he would improve Social Security, take the program off the path of insolvency, provide a higher benefit for the oldest beneficiaries and eliminate penalties for teachers and public-sector workers who may face eligibility issues.
Biden also said he would implement a minimum benefit for Americans who worked for 30 years — at least 125% of the poverty level. “No one who has worked for decades and paid into Social Security should have to spend their retirement in poverty,” his campaign site said.
Whether this proposal would be passed, or how soon, is yet to be seen. Biden may have a hard time with passing legislation if the Republicans keep control of the Senate. Still, there’s a chance both Democrats and Republicans will agree on this particular provision, said Dean Baker, senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. “I would think there’s at least a possibility,” he said.
Americans who worked low-paying jobs their whole lives would see the greatest benefits to a provision like this, said Nancy Altman, president of Social Security Works, which advocates for expanding the program.
Social Security is in need of fixing, experts say. The trust funds that support the program are expected to be depleted in the next 15 years, in which case beneficiaries would receive approximately 80% of what they’re owed. The pandemic will likely speed up that timeline, said Jagadeesh Gokhale, director of special projects for the Penn Wharton Budget Model, a nonpartisan research-based initiative that analyzes public policy.
The minimum benefit is not a new concept. The idea, known as a “special minimum benefit,” was first enacted in the early 1970s to “provide adequate benefits to long-term low earners,” according to the Social Security Administration.
But the current law is outdated, Altman said. The standard Social Security benefit is indexed to wages, whereas the special minimum benefit is indexed to the average price of goods. Because average wages tend to outgrow average prices, each year the number of eligible beneficiaries for the special minimum benefit gets smaller. “In a way, it’s updating the minimum,” she said.
Biden’s plan would increase the minimum benefit for eligible beneficiaries. Under the current law, the full Special Minimum Benefit was $886.40 in 2019; under Biden’s proposal, it would have been $1,301, according to the Penn Wharton Budget Model.