Last week, Florida’s Democratic members of Congress, led by U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., sent a letter to President Donald Trump “pushing back against Trump’s ineffectual and possibly unconstitutional executive actions regarding the ongoing economic crisis fueled by COVID-19.”
The Florida Democrats insisted that “Trump’s executive actions and recent statements attack and undermine core programs on which so many Floridians depend, like Social Security, Medicare, and FEMA disaster relief funding” and claimed the president’s “actions also fail to address the real economic suffering of Floridians in any meaningful way.”
“Rather than fully confront the historic crisis facing America, President Trump chooses to ignore families struggling to find work or pay rent, and instead offer false promises and weakens our bedrock Social Security and emergency response systems with completely inadequate remedies that ignore the health and economic catastrophe his own negligent leadership unleashed,” said Wasserman Schultz on Wednesday.
Other signers included Florida Democrats U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor, Charlie Crist, Val Demings, Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel, Alcee Hastings, Al Lawson, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, Stephanie Murphy, Donna Shalala, Darren Soto and Frederica Wilson.
The letter is below.
Dear Mr. President:
As members of the Florida congressional delegation, we write to express our strong opposition to your recent executive order and presidential memoranda addressing the pandemic-fueled economic crisis. By undermining Social Security’s funding source, threatening Medicare’s future, and stealing from Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Disaster Relief Fund, these executive actions represent a tripartite attack on the safety net benefit programs Floridians paid into and on which they depend. These executive actions amount to little more than rhetoric, fail to provide adequate aid to Americans who are struggling, and represent an inappropriate attempt to circumvent Congress’s constitutional powers.
Your memorandum on deferring payroll tax obligations has raised particular concern for our constituents, because so many of them rely on the critical benefits provided by Social Security. According to the Social Security Administration’s data for 2019, a total of 4,747,364 Floridians receives some form of Social Security benefits. Only California has a greater number of beneficiaries. This number represents 22.1 percent of Florida’s total population – meaning more than one in five Floridians receives Social Security benefits.
That is why your deferral of the employee payroll tax is so alarming to us. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has estimated that your memorandum may defer up to $150 billion in revenue that would have gone into the Social Security trust funds. Even before the pandemic, many experts had estimated that Social Security would be unable to pay full benefits without intervention from Congress by 2035. Previous temporary payroll tax cuts were passed by Congress and were accompanied by fund transfers from the general fund of the U.S. Treasury to the trust fund. But your memorandum urges the Secretary of the Treasury to “explore avenues, including legislation, to eliminate the obligation to pay the taxes deferred.” Plus, the memorandum merely orders a deferral, so the tax liability will have to be repaid by employees without congressional action.
Furthermore, you stated during a press event on August 8 that you would seek to make permanent this deferral and even “terminate” the payroll tax if you are reelected. Under no circumstance would we support such action, which would need to be passed by Congress. Making the memorandum’s deferral permanent would slash Social Security by up to 45 percent, according to the Center for American Progress. Eliminating the payroll tax entirely would eliminate 90 percent of funding for Social Security. This is nothing short of a proposal to shred the social safety net that our constituents have earned. Destroying Social Security would siphon wealth away from retired and disabled workers, their families, and the families of deceased workers towards those at the highest income brackets. This would fundamentally rewrite the landscape of the American economy and our democracy.
Additionally, terminating the payroll tax would threaten Medicare’s future. In Florida, 4,412,700 Americans, or 20.7 percent of the state population, were Medicare beneficiaries as of 2018. Like Social Security, Medicare is a critical, life-saving program that provides health insurance to individuals who are 65 and older as well as to permanently disabled individuals under the age of 65. Similarly, workers pay into Medicare through payroll taxes, which means they pay into this program so that they can enjoy the benefits they have earned when they turn 65.
Finally, we have significant concerns with your attempts to slash unemployment benefits. First, the unemployment insurance (UI) proposal contained in the memorandum is legally dubious. The administration appears to be invoking the Stafford Act in an attempt to bypass Congress’s power to make laws and appropriate funds. Yet again, this administration is demonstrating that it does not respect separation of powers or Congress’s power of the purse.
Second, we take great issue with the source of the funding your administration is targeting. When Congress appropriated funding for FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund, this is not the purpose that we had in mind. Florida is currently in the middle of hurricane season, a season that has been forecasted to be one of the most active in recent history.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), we can expect 19 to 25 named storms this year. Of these, between seven and eleven are predicted to become hurricanes, which is twice the usual number. That means we can expect three to six major hurricanes. Your own agency officials at NOAA have stated that climate change is warming waters and causing more intense storms.
Recent hurricanes have inflicted tens of billions of dollars in economic damages to the United States. Seizing $44 billion from the Disaster Relief Fund’s available $70 billion may leave us poorly positioned to respond to what looks to be an unfortunately historic hurricane season. Holding these funds in limbo or spending them on a harebrained unemployment scheme that may prove to be illegal is unwise. These funds should be protected for the preparation for and response to hurricanes and other natural disasters. In the meantime, your administration must work with Congress to pass a legislative solution to the unemployment crisis that extends federal benefits and maintains them at $600 per week, rather than your tenuous, greatly diminished assistance that cannot be counted on.
Your recent executive actions are an assault on the priorities and programs that so many Floridians value and on which so many rely. Even your executive order on eviction hurts Floridians: it does not include any federal moratorium, includes no funding, and offers renters a false sense of protection that does not actually exist. We ask that you abandon your unconstitutional, unilateral attempts to legislate half-baked, insufficient coronavirus relief programs and direct your administration to negotiate a deal that can be passed through the Legislative Branch and that actually provides substantial relief to Americans. We need legislation to solve this problem now – not empty promises.