Column: Did the budget deal close a Social Security ‘loophole,’ or harm poor women?

In The News

Some Social Security advocates are praising Congress for closing the loophole, which some have decried for a long time . Their argument is that the so-called file-and-suspend option has been mostly exploited by two-earner couples whose lifetime incomes are roughly equivalent and who are healthy enough for at least once spouse to put off claiming benefits until after normal retirement age. These people tend to occupy the high end of the income scale. They also have the best access to professional advice to help them navigate the complexities of the maneuver.

But what about those for whom file-and-suspend is not a loophole but a lifeline? “They’re collateral damage,” said Heidi Hartmann, president of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research , who is one of the few voices opposing the change.

Hartmann observes that the effect on widows and divorced women, among others who could have used file-and-suspend to make their benefits a little less inadequate, reflects our scattershot approach to Social Security in general — tweaking it at the margins without addressing the real needs of millions of beneficiaries.

“This is a moment when advocates should pivot to how Social Security affects low-income people,” Hartmann said, though she doesn’t sound too optimistic that will happen.