The U.S. Senate’s vote in favor of a tax reform package could have a dire impact on our nation’s seniors. Many economists point to a huge increase in the deficit from this bill. That, in turn, fuels our concerns that a significant federal budget shortfall would encourage members of Congress to argue for future cuts to vital federal programs such as Medicare and Medicaid to help pay down the debt. B’nai B’rith does not approve of trying to smooth out the shortfall on the financial backs of low-income seniors. Programs like Medicare and Medicaid need to be fully funded to ensure seniors have seamless coverage.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the Senate’s tax reform bill, as currently written, increases the deficit by a trillion dollars. This in turn could trigger about $25 billion in automatic cuts next year to Medicare. In 2015 46.3 million seniors relied on Medicare.
To B’nai B’rith, the nation’s largest national Jewish sponsor of low income housing for seniors, and as long-time advocates for the needs of seniors, these numbers are beyond troubling. Many seniors would be at severe risk to not have the funds to cover basic housing, medical and food costs.
At the same time, we are encouraged that the Senate’s tax package keeps the medical expense deduction that is so important to so many seniors, allowing them to deduct medical and dental expenses from their tax bottom line. This deduction was eliminated in the House version of the tax reform package. Since 1942, millions of Americans have saved money — funds they often need for their day-to-day living expenses — by deducting medical expenses from their taxes. According to Internal Revenue Service data, in 2013, 56 percent of the taxpayers who took the deduction were over 65.
Another area that bears watching is the Low Income Housing Tax Credit. For now, both the Senate and House measures protect this program, which provides incentives for the private sector to create affordable housing residences. But under the House provision, the use of private activity bonds is eliminated. Since these bonds help finance about half of all Low Income Housing Tax Credit construction, we hope in conference the chambers agree to leave the bond financing intact. Getting rid of these bonds will make it very difficult for new affordable housing to be built and for current housing to be maintained.
As the Senate and the House work to reconcile their competing measures in the coming weeks, we urge members on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers to consider the people who will pay the price. Medicare and Medicaid need to be sacrosanct. The Senate and House should also agree to keep the individual mandate in the affordable care act, which currently helps keep health care premiums somewhat in check. If the individual mandate is dropped from the ACA it could cause a spike in premiums for older Americans. We urge the conferees to consider a provision that any shortfall in federal revenue from tax cuts would not trigger cuts to vital programs.