Indivisible Yolo Podcast – Sarah Zimmerman of Retirement Security for All


Sarah Zimmerman, Program Director for Retirement Security for All, joins the podcast this week, to discuss the effects of the #TaxScam with respect to social programs, and her research into retirement security across the state of California.

Last year, in October, Congress passed a budget resolution that, along with $5.8 trillion ($5,800,000,000,000) in spending cuts, included a provision that allowed them to pass their tax resolution with a simple majority in the Senate, rather than a ⅔ majority. Although the cuts weren’t enacted, the resolution gives a pretty clear picture of which programs the GOP is planning to cut, particularly in the wake of the #TaxScam, and subsequent deficit increase.

A number of programs slated for the chopping block include those that benefit seniors, which is Sarah’s research focus. They’re coming after the housing assistance budget, they want to eliminate the legal services budget, and they want to eliminate state grants for emergencies – things like hurricanes and wildfires. In addition, they want to cut more than $1 trillion ($1,000,000,000,000) from Medicaid, even though approximately 6 out of every 10 people in a nursing home depend almost exclusively on it.

Sarah has been looking into what these types of cuts would look like, and how they’d manifest in counties across California. She looked at 10 counties in California that are in districts represented by vulnerable Republicans – meaning they represent a district that Hillary Clinton won. San Joaquin county, for instance, which is in California’s 10th district, represented by Jeff Dehnem, would see a $12 million ($12,000,000) cut to its budget through Trump’s $6 billion ($6,000,000,000) housing cuts. Currently, 9,000 senior headed homes pay more than half of their income in housing costs, and over 2,000 of these households could lose their housing entirely, as a result of these cuts.

Every county has numbers like that. In Yolo, there are 3,000 senior headed households that pay more than half of their income in housing costs. Because senior headed households are often older couples, that means that 6,000 people are vulnerable. In addition, about 1,000 households include a senior who relies on federal subsidies, meaning those households could also lose their housing. Sarah points out that the only way that people are surviving on Social Security benefits is that they have subsides from other government programs, like housing, Medicare, or legal aid. The average Social Security check is about $1,300 per month, which is comparable to what most one bedroom apartments cost to rent in Yolo county. Pulling these programs, and reducing payouts obviously puts a strain on these people and their households.

A strain will also be put on the local economy, through lost government revenue, and loss of consumer purchasing power. A tax break to seniors, that puts more spending money in their pockets, for example, means that money will be spent in their communities and taxed by the local economy. A tax break for a billionaire, on the other hand, doesn’t ensure that kind of local and widespread spending – one person simply can’t be spending little amounts everywhere the same way that a multitude of people in communities across the country can. This is called a multiplier effect: a senior who has an extra dollar in their pocket, and who spends that dollar in a local economy, will have an economic ripple effect, multiplying the value of that dollar.

Another program on the chopping block is SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more colloquially known as food stamps. Here in California, it’s known as CalFresh, and you can learn more by listening to our podcast with Don Saylor (episode 28). SNAP is another program that has a multiplier effect – roughly 1.79%. Moody’s, a fairly conservative economic analysis group, estimates that funding SNAP has a greater positive effect on the economy than tax cuts. SNAP’s multiplier of 1.79% means that for every dollar invested in SNAP, that generates growth in the local economy equivalent to almost double its original worth. For Yolo County, that means about $57 million ($57,000,000).

On an individual level, many people benefit from overlap of these programs. For example, a single parent, making $15 an hour, taking care of an aging parent, might head a household that receives Social Security, Medicare, and SNAP benefits, among others. This means that they can take time off work to take care of that aging parent, or can afford to have a caregiver for when they have to go to work. It means they can afford childcare for young children, so the parent can go to work. If the kids are older, they may be able to take advantage of federal grants and scholarships for college. The family might receive subsidies that allow them to afford their housing, electricity, or even their centralized heating and air, particularly if they live in dangerously hot places like California’s central valley. If these subsidies go away, this family could lose their housing, their heat, their child or elder care, and any hope of attending college. Sarah’s research has found that many families like this are only one or two paychecks away from losing their housing, or their cars, and any type of emergency or medical disaster can put them in financial ruin. It is a precarious and incredibly stressful situation.

One of the most dangerous cuts would be to the legal services budget. Many may not realize how important it is that low-income folks have access to legal services, but Sarah mentions a man who required medicine to control his high blood pressure, but through clerical error, was unable to register for MediCal. He couldn’t leave his home because his other medical supplies had run dangerously low, but he was able to call legal services and within a day they had re-established his MediCal. Without legal aid, he may not have survived, and certainly would not have been able to keep his dignity, yet the GOP budget aims to cut these services entirely.

Part of what we can do to fight back is to continue educating. For a long, and yet somehow still incomplete, detailing of the horrors in the tax bill, check out the Holiday Tax Scam Special, or read the blog. Educate proponents of the bill that a one time bonus of $1,000 won’t last long in the face of health insurance rate hikes, new expenses that were previously covered by social programs, or even new taxes. Make sure when 2019 rolls around, people understand that their taxes have changed because of that bill that was passed at the end of 2017. Keep reminding them. Major Republican donors like the Koch brothers have already pledged millions of dollars to try and put a positive spin on the bill, and they are rolling out an extended PR campaign. We can combat it by spreading information about what this bill actually does, getting out in the streets – like the graduate students Averyl Dietering and Breanne Weber did at UC Davis – and continuing to shame the GOP. Most importantly, the only way to change the situation is to take back the government in November 2018, which means registering and making sure folks are able to vote.

If you’d like to learn more about retirement security, and Sarah’s research, you can check out Retirement Security for All’s website: They also have a facebook page, and work closely with CARA – California Alliance for Retired Americans. Sarah suggests getting involved, in part, because the seniors of CARA are so courageous and fun to work with. She’d also like to ask that anyone who has a story of how they benefited from social welfare programs – CHIP, Social Security, MediCal, legal services, or others – share it on the RSA website. On the homepage, there’s a link to share your experience, and Sarah suggests ignoring the prompt and simply telling your story.

If you’d like to get involved with flipping Jeff Denham’s seat in California District 10, Organize Win Legislate’s Director, Tristan Brown, stopped by the pod, and has a number of ways to get involved. Indivisible Manteca is also organizing to wrest power away from Denham in 2018.