COVID News

March 7, 2021

FUTURE FOR SOCIAL SECURITY (SS) AND MEDICARE?

Telephone Town Hall — With the new Biden administration and bare Democratic majorities in both the U.S. House and Senate, what might be the future of SS and Medicare? To discuss that question, Michigan SERA Coordinating Council has asked Washington insider Dan Adcock, Director of Government Relations and Policy at the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) to join us in a teleconference phone call to provide a Washington Update on the Future of Social Security and Medicare.

When and Where — The call-in program will begin at 1:30 p.m., Friday, March 26. To join the call, dial 1-602-580-9409. When prompted, enter access code “497 5894#.” You do not need to announce yourself. Please mute your phone (*6) upon entering the meeting. The presentation is free and no registration is required. Toll charges apply to this long distance call if you do not have an unlimited long distance plan for your phone line.

NCPSSM — The NCPSSM is a membership organization whose mission is to protect, preserve, promote, and ensure the financial security, health, and well-being of current and future generations of maturing Americans. It was founded in 1982 by former Congressman James Roosevelt, son of President Franklin D. Roosevelt who signed the Social Security Act into law.

Questions — Of particular interest are these questions:

  • What is the current expected longevity of the Social Security Trust Fund and the Medicare Trust Fund?
  • Currently, only the first $142,800 of a worker’s wages are subject to the Social Security payroll tax. Should Congress pass legislation requiring higher income earners to pay Social Security taxes on all or most of their income, which would extend Social Security’s solvency and help pay for needed benefit improvements? Should the payroll tax be raised?
  • Do you think Congress should hold public hearings to address the long-term health of the Social Security Trust Fund or should a commission be appointed to make recommendations?
  • Do you support a proposal that would allow older Americans age 60-64 to become eligible to enroll in Medicare?
  • Should Congress and the Biden Administration adopt legislation that will meaningfully lower high prescription drug prices?
STATE PENSION REVISION PROPOSED

Several bills proposing to change the way the State’s contribution to the State’s four pension funds is calculated were introduced February 18 and had a first hearing in the House Appropriations Committee chaired by State Rep. Thomas Albert (R-Lowell, Belding, Ionia) on February 24. The bill affecting State employee pensions is House Bill (HB) 4264 sponsored by State Rep. Steven Johnson (R-Shelbyville).

Supporters — Ryan Frost, representing the Reason Foundation, a libertarian think tank, testified in support of the bills. Submitting indications of support but not speaking were former Republican Speaker of the House Jase Bolger, representing the West Michigan Policy Forum, and James Hohman, Director of Fiscal Policy for the Mackinac Center. There was no testimony from the Office of Retirement Services (ORS), a key player in all the pension systems affected by the bills. The ORS position might be indicative of whether or not the Governor would approve the bills.

What It Does — HB 4264 would require the State employees’ pension system to use a “layered amortization” method for paying down past pension underfunding, which requires officials to amortize (pay back) each “layer” of underfunding accumulated in a given period over not more than ten years. The bills would also reduce the time frame over which a deficiency in the actuarially determined contribution must be paid, require that the most recent mortality tables provided by the Actuarial Standards Board be used, and implement a reduced cap (from 8.0 percent to 6.7 percent) for the assumed rate of return and discount rate.

Effect on Budget, Retirees — The House Fiscal Agency (HFA) Analysis indicates that the bill would increase near-term budgetary cost to the State but generate longer-term net savings for the State and system overall. Unaddressed in the HFA Analysis is what effect the proposed changes would have on the likelihood that the State pension fund could meet all its obligations owed to the last beneficiary of all State employee retirees in the defined benefit retirement system.

The funded ratio of the actuarial value of the State employee pension fund is 65.4 percent as of September 30, 2019, the latest reporting period in the January 2021 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. The funded ratio of the State employee retiree health care benefit is 33.4 percent, low because pre-funding just began in 2013.

Meeting — Through its membership in the Coalition for a Secure Retirement, SERA Coordinating Council Chair Bob Kopasz and SERA Legislative Representative Mary Pollock met with Appropriations Chair Albert and other representatives of affected retirees on March 4 to hear his description of the bills and ask him questions. Rep. Albert is a former State employee who worked for the Investment Bureau in the Michigan Department of Treasury. Michigan SERA has not yet taken a position on the bill and continues to gather information.

SHOTS AND SENIORS

B117 Variant — Dr. Michael Osterholm, Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota and an independent reviewer of the national response to the pandemic said on NBC’s Meet The Press on March 7 that we are in the eye of the hurricane right now. It seems calm and there are blue skies. But the United Kingdom B117 highly transmissible variant is wreaking havoc in many parts of Europe. Four weeks ago it was only 1 — 4 percent of viruses seen in the USA and now is at 30 — 40 percent. When it hits 50 percent, we will see a surge in hospitalizations. We should not let up on prevention measures like mask wearing and social distancing. The current vaccination rate of 2.9 - 3 million doses a day over the next 6 — 14 weeks during the B117 surge will not be fully protective he says.

Seniors — While 24 percent of Michiganders 65 and over are fully vaccinated with more than half of seniors having gotten at least their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine as of this writing, nationally well over half of seniors have either not received COVID-19 vaccinations or have only received one dose. Eighty percent of the deaths are among seniors so seniors will be highly vulnerable during the B117 surge. More than 420 confirmed cases of the B117 variant have been found in Michigan as of March 2. In Europe there is a high transmission of the B117 variant in the schools and that is starting to be seen in the USA.

Eligibility Expanding — Food processing and agricultural workers were eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as of March 1, and people 50 years of age and older with health risks were eligible starting March 8. Family members and guardians of children with special health care needs were also eligible on March 8. Beginning March 22, anyone 50 years of age and older is eligible for COVID vaccination. Although more doses are being sent to Michigan, the expanding eligibility puts pressure on the vaccination appointment system and the supply of doses to respond adequately to the demand.

Vaccinated, Now What? — The Center for Disease Control (CDC) says that two weeks after people receive their final vaccine dose of the two-dose Moderna and Pfizer vaccines or their one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, they’re considered fully immunized and can meet indoors with other fully vaccinated people without wearing masks or social distancing. Such gatherings are “low risk,” the CDC said.

Nursing Homes — On March 2, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that, effective immediately, nursing homes and other long-term care facilities could schedule visitations and provide communal dining for residents. It has been a year since these residents have been kept in relative isolation and, except for window visits, their relatives and loved ones could not visibly check on their welfare. While all residents at skilled nursing homes have been offered their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine and a vast majority having had their second dose, the State is moving cautiously.

Under the new residential care facility order, indoor and outdoor visitations must be supported and accommodated by facilities. Visitations can occur if the facility has no new COVID-19 cases within the last 14 days and is not conducting outbreak testing and the local health department or State has not prohibited visitation. Visitations will be limited to two people at a time and must be done through appointments. Those who are unable or unwilling to wear masks cannot visit, and visitors must also be tested and screened for COVID-19 before the visit. Social distancing is also required, and physical contact is barred.

Poll — A recent poll of likely voters in Michigan showed that while 70 percent of those surveyed plan to definitely or probably get a vaccine when it becomes available to them, 27 percent will not or probably will not and 3 percent were undecided. And while a larger percentage — 78 percent — of those living in Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties plan to get vaccinated, a much smaller percentage — 65 percent — of those living in the rest of the State expect to do so. The poll was conducted February 19 — 25 by EPIC-MRA of Lansing for the Detroit Free Press and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. The poll found that while large percentages of self-identified Democrats and independents plan to get vaccinated, nearly half of Republicans — 47 percent — do not, compared with 46 percent who plan to be vaccinated.

REDISTRICTING UPDATE

At its March 4-5 meetings, the Michigan Independent Redistricting Commission decided to join with the Michigan Department of State in asking the Michigan Supreme Court for an advisory opinion on what to do about the impossibility of meeting the Michigan Constitution’s deadlines for drawing new Congressional District, Michigan Senate, and Michigan House district lines.

Usually the U.S. Census gives the states their new population numbers in February or March in the year following the Census of Population. It recently announced that the 2020 new census data will not be released until September 30, 2021. Under the 2018 constitutional amendment that created the new redistricting process, the proposed maps must be available for public comment for 45 days before the November 1 deadline for the Commission to vote on the final maps. That would require proposed maps to be available to the public by September 17, 13 days ahead of the September 30 release of data needed to draw the maps.

Bureau of Elections Director Jonathan Brater said the census data and redistricting delay will have a domino effect on the deadlines facing the Secretary of State’s office as it works to align the State’s Qualified Voter File with the new district maps. That work includes moving large groups of people from one district to another depending on which new district a community falls within, as well as address-by-address adjustments depending on precisely where a boundary falls. This usually takes six months after the lines are finalized.

In other action the Commission decided to have formal hearings with at least a majority of Commissioners present in all 14 Congressional Districts and Town Halls with at least one Commissioner in attendance at numerous other locations. These will occur predominantly in May and June. Of particular interest is how residents view their community of interest, one of the top criteria listed in the Constitution for drawing district lines.

TRANSITION

Former Attorney General Frank J. Kelley died March 5 at the age of 96. He was Michigan’s Attorney General from 1961-1998, the longest-serving State attorney general. He set up the nation’s first consumer protection and environmental protection divisions in a state attorney general office. His influence led to the passage of the Open Meetings Act and the Freedom of Information Act. He championed civil rights issues. After leaving office, he and former House Republican Minority Leader Dennis Cawthorne combined to form the Kelley Cawthorne lobbying firm. In 2020 he moved to Naples, Florida to an assisted living facility where he died of natural causes.

Editor’s note: Mary Pollock is the Lansing SERA Chapter and SERA Council’s Legislative Representative. She may be contacted at 1200 Prescott Drive, East Lansing, MI 48823-2446; Phone 517-351-7292; E-mail michigansera@comcast.net.

Michigan SERA Recent News, a compilation of links to articles of interest to state employees, is no longer produced.

Return to top of page