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Social Security Whiz Marcia Mantell Cheers Provisions for Widows, Caregivers in New Bill

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What You Need to Know

  • Retirement expert Marcia Mantell spotlights aspects to like about Social Security 2100: A Sacred Trust.
  • A new caregiver credit is a great idea, she says, but she's not sure about the formula.
  • COVID helped push some new additions to the bill, she says.

Much of the 100-page Social Security 2100 bill proposed Tuesday by Rep. John Larson, D-Conn., seems like déjà vu to retirement expert Marcia Mantell as “he has been pitching this bill for years (since 2014),” she told ThinkAdvisor Wednesday.

That said, she certainly appreciates his “being a champion for improving the solvency of Social Security because that absolutely needs to be addressed.”

This year’s version certainly is different, said the founder and president of Mantell Retirement Consulting. Not only were there additional sponsors to the bill, but new provisions were added, which she believes is due to the pandemic.

“My overall assessment here is I’m so glad someone is a champion in Washington for Social Security improvements and the area’s they’re choosing to look at seem to be the right ones,” she said.

Here’s what she doesn’t like about the bill: “It’s because of the way Washington works that [the changes] are only temporarily for the next five years,” she explained. “And if I could wave my magic wand, I would have them address what needs to be addressed. Reset Social Security’s baseline and then keep the law moving forward. … Let’s not [just] try these interim temporary solutions, which we all know will be permanent.”

That stresses the system for those who receive the money, as well as “throws advisors into a tizzy because how are you supposed to plan for that with your clients?” she asks. Not only does it hurt planning but it forces “people to make bad decisions.”

A Closer Look

The expiration of several of these benefits in 2026 is a problem, she says, but there were some provisions she applauded.

1. CPI-E vs. CPI-W

“It doesn’t matter. It’s so small of a difference. We’ve been fighting about this for the last 20 years … If we’re going to change the law, make it where at minimum every year seniors get [for example] a 2% increase, plus if there’s a need to go higher, we don’t stick to the current structure of this law to base inflation on a CPI.”

More on this topic

2. Increased Survivors Benefits

She “liked” the changes in the spousal and survivor benefits, that would ensure widows and widowers receive 75% of the combined Social Security benefits the couple was receiving prior to one spouse’s death. Currently, when one dies, “that’s a huge hit to the surviving spouse,” she says. But settling on 75% is “addressing a real problem that survivors have … it’s very smart.”

3. Repealing Windfall Elimination Provisions

She also likes repealing the Government Pension Offset and Windfall Elimination Provision, which means those affected state and local government retirees are no longer subject to these reductions in their Social Security benefits.

She notes this is especially important for those who have worked “hybrid careers,” such as public school teachers who may have worked for the government except during the summer when they work for a private company. As such, their Social Security benefits “get penalized pretty severely.”

4. Caregiver Credits

She applauded the “caregiver provision,” which will provide earnings credits within the Social Security benefit formula for up to five years for someone out of the workforce or with reduced wages while caring for a child under the age of 12 or a dependent relative.

“I love this idea that they’re going to try to credit the at-home moms,” Mantell says, but “the way I’m reading it” is it’s such a small amount. According to the the bill, it is half of the amount for the five years up to the level that is equal to half the national average wage.

“But lots of women make a lot of money today,” she says. “So you’re leaving a $125,000 a year job, and you’ll get $30,000? That doesn’t seem right. I love that they are looking into this, but I don’t love the formula.”

She adds that this is a new provision from previous iterations of the bill and she believes it “came out only due to COVID, which really pushed the agenda on addressing some real inequities in the system and Social Security.”