Opening Statement of the Hon. Gerald D. Kleczka, a Representative in Congress from the State of Wisconsin

Testimony Before the Subcommittee on Social Security
of the House Committee on Ways and Means

Hearing on Misleading Mailings Targeted to Seniors

July 26, 2001

Chairman Shaw, Ranking Member Matsui, and Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for allowing me to join you in today’s hearing.

Our senior citizens are continually being besieged with misleading mailings from questionable advocacy groups telling them that the Social Security Administration is cheating them. These letters claim that retirees born between 1917 and 1926 are "Notch Victims" and are entitled to a $5,000 lump-sum payment. This is simply an attempt to extort money from the most vulnerable among us -- those aged 75 to 84 -- by promising increased Social Security payments.

Congress corrected the flaw in the Social Security formula in 1977 and the benefit amount being received today by these retirees is correct. However, upon receipt of these mailings, concerned elderly immediately call us inquiring if the information is true and if the groups sending them are legitimate. I advise my constituents to throw out the material for it is nothing more than a scam!

One such group that continually solicits the elderly is The Retired Enlisted Association’s (TREA) subsidiary – The Senior Citizens League (TSCL). Chartered by Congress in 1992 to serve the interests of our retired enlisted service members, this group expanded their reach to non-military retirees in 1994.

Since then, their repeated solicitations for contributions have been combined with replicas of $5,000 US Government – Social Security Trust Fund checks, plastic Notch Registry cards and requests to seniors to include TSCL in their will. Last year these types of deceptive tactics netted The Senior Citizens League over $12 million dollars!

This is all done by telling our elderly that Notch legislation is pending in Congress which will give them more money. Although bills have been introduced to accomplish this, we all know that the Social Security Trust Fund is already strained, and legislation costing $45 to $60 billion to raise existing retiree benefits will never pass.

They go on to state that they are maintaining a notch registry and will inform contributors if benefits are increased. Further, the mailing requests that seniors check a box if they want their $5,000 award in four annuals payments or a monthly increase in SS benefits. Who died and left this group in charge of the Social Security program! As we all know, the Social Security Administration is charged with and would notify seniors of any change in benefits.

There is no need for this organization to maintain any registry list and clearly they have no say over any future benefit levels. This deception is being perpetrated to accomplish their real goal and that is "I’m enclosing a contribution to join with you and to help cover the cost of maintaining the register and to pay for our massive national campaign…"

The tactics employed by this group have continually raised serious concerns about their legitimacy. In a letter I wrote to The Senior Citizens League last May, I asked them to "…stop soliciting my constituents for money and asking them to include your organization in their wills." The time has come for Congress to demand they cease and desist, or serious consideration should be given to revocation of the TREA charter.

Again, Chairman Shaw -- thank you for allowing me to participate today.