News Releases

Murray Fights To Protect Women During Social Security Reform

Jun 12 2001

Sends Letter to President Bush Outlining Her Concerns

(Washington, D.C.) Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) joined with her Democratic women colleagues to urge the President and his new Social Security Commission to maintain the protections that keep older women out of poverty. The President's commission held its first meeting yesterday.

As the President pushes for a partial privatization of Social Security, Murray and her colleagues noted that women could lose the protections that currently keep them out of poverty.

Murray and her colleagues spoke at a press conference, where they released a letter they sent to President Bush listing six principles for protecting women under various reforms.

Those principles are:

Does it:

  1. Preserve Social Security's guaranteed, lifetime, inflation-protected benefits?

  2. Preserve Social Security's protections for workers when they are disabled, as well as when they retire, and for workers' spouses and children when workers are disabled, retire, or die?

  3. Protect against impoverishment of women by maintaining Social Security's progressive benefit structure?

  4. Strengthen the financing of the Social Security system while ensuring that women and other economically disadvantaged groups are protected to the greatest degree possible?

  5. Further reduce poverty among older women?

  6. If it includes retirement savings options, does it:

    • supplement, but not substitute for or undermine, Social Security?

    • have progressive benefits for low earners and is it targeted to those least likely to have other retirement savings?

    • enable women and men who spend time out of the labor force caring for children and other family members to accumulate savings for their own retirement, and protect spouses in cases of divorce or widowhood?

    • have administrative costs, especially for small account holders that are kept to a minimum?

    • prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender, race, or ethnicity?

    • have an overall cost consistent with preserving and strengthening Social Security and Medicare?


At a press conference today, Senator Murray explained the importance of the third item on the checklist: "Protect Against Impoverishment of Women by Maintaining Social Security's Progressive Benefit Structure"

Her remarks follow:

Social Security is not just a program. It's a promise. It's a promise that if you work hard, you'll have some security when you retire or if you become disabled. It's a promise that seniors won't have to live in poverty. And it's a promise that if your spouse passes on, you will continue to receive support and security that will always be there.

President Bush has now created a commission to change Social Security dramatically. Many of us are very concerned. But these changes could break the promise Social Security offers to millions of Americans.

The promise of Social Security is especially important to women because women face unique challenges in retirement. We know that women make less money than men, women leave the workforce to raise families, and women live longer -- and are more likely to suffer from a chronic health condition.

Even with those special challenges, Social Security keeps millions of older women out of poverty. Its benefit formulas are tilted to give a greater rate of return for lower wage workers like women and minorities.If the "Bush Commission" privatizes part of Social Security, it must ensure that low-wage earners get the help they need.

We also know that Social Security isn't just a retirement program. It protects disabled workers and their families. If Social Security is privatized, what happens to a worker who is disabled and can't contribute to her account? Today, under Social Security, that worker is protected. Under the Bush Commission, we'll have to wait and see.

President Bush and his commission could undo the progressive structure that older women depend on. This is one "reform" that would have disastrous "results."

Under this Administration, many things we take for granted from community police to safe drinking water have been threatened. Now President Bush wants to change Social Security. We are here today to say that some things are just too important to American families. We will make sure that in his promise of reform, President Bush doesn't break the promise Social Security keeps for millions of women and their families.


The text of the Senators' letter to President Bush follows:

June 12, 2001

The Honorable George W. Bush
President of the United States
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

The Democratic women of the United States Senate understand that the Commission you named to recommend changes in Social Security has recently had its first meeting. Because Social Security plays such a crucial role in the financial security of women – not only in retirement, but throughout the life span – we have developed a Checklist for Social Security Reform that protects women and families, which we have enclosed.

The principles in our checklist are extremely important because Social Security is vital to women's retirement security: nearly two-thirds of all women 65 and older receive half or more of their income from Social Security, and for nearly one-third of older women, Social Security is 90% or more of their income. We understand that the Commission has been directed to develop recommendations for a plan that includes "individually controlled, voluntary personal retirement accounts." However, we have strong concerns about any plan that diverts payroll taxes from the Social Security system into private accounts. This would necessarily drain the program of funds already promised to pay the Social Security benefits on which so many Americans, especially women, depend. We would like to draw your attention to the sixth item of the checklist that specifically outlines the criteria that any private investment proposal must meet to earn our support. First among those criteria is that it must supplement, but not substitute for or undermine, Social Security.

Reforming one of the nation's largest and most successful programs will involve many difficult choices and potential programmatic changes. While individually we may have different views on the merits of various proposals, we are agreed that Social Security must be preserved and strengthened. We are united to vigorously oppose any reform, including the creation of individual retirement accounts, if it does not meet each and every one of our principles.

We want you to know that we intend to be active participants in this process and look forward to working together on this important issue.


Barbara A. Mikulski
Dianne Feinstein
Barbara Boxer
Patty Murray
Mary Landrieu
Blanche Lincoln
Debbie Stabenow
Maria Cantwell
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Jean Carnahan