Retirees talk tax reform with Congress

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Tax reform is a huge priority for the Trump administration and the Republican-controlled Congress, but there's not a lot to like about the GOP tax proposal, especially when it's clear that the wealthy and big corporations will get most of the benefits and the middle class will get stuck footing the bill.

The legislation is "a huge minus for seniors," says retiree Roger Boudreau, president of the retiree chapter of the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers. One of the biggest concerns for Boudreau is the increase the middle class would feel in Rhode Island, a high-tax state, which would be hit with two increases with the loss of the mortgage deduction and the state and local tax deduction. "The 1 percent is not getting larger, but they are getting richer," said Boudreau, who is a member of the AFT Retiree Committee. "This bill will do the opposite of helping the middle class."

AFT retirees lobbying against tax legislation

The massive transfer of wealth contained in the GOP legislation is one of the reasons Boudreau and several members of the committee went to Washington, D.C., on Nov. 16 to lobby their lawmakers to vote against the tax reform legislation.

The retirees also expressed concerns about other components of the tax bill, including the elimination of the deduction for student loan interest and the provision that allows K-12 teachers to deduct money spent on school supplies and union dues. The loss of the deduction for medical expenses would hit retirees especially hard because they often face higher medical and long-term care costs. The current tax law allows people who itemize to deduct medical expenses if they exceed 10 percent of their income. The retirees also see the plan to include the repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate in the Senate tax proposal as an overreach, especially when activists have successfully fought efforts to repeal the ACA for the past year.

Repealing the mandate in the tax bill will have a devastating effect on Americans between the ages of 50 and 64. Allowing some to opt out of insurance coverage will leave 13 million without coverage, and the cost of health insurance premiums will skyrocket for those who stay in the market. This is especially true for 50- to 64-year-olds, who often need health coverage the most.

The question then becomes whether this really is about tax reform or about getting rid of Obamacare, says Ray Variakojis, president of the retiree chapter for the Cleveland Teachers Union.

Although most members of the House voted along party lines to pass the tax reform bill on Nov. 14, there is still time to take action before the Senate votes in the coming weeks. Join other AFT activists who have sent a letter to their members of Congress urging them to reject the legislation. Then, mark your calendars for Wednesday, Nov. 29, for a National Day of Action where we'll be joining with community partners to rally in front of congressional offices around the country.

[Adrienne Coles]