Boston University School of Law

February 27, 2009


Patricia Dilley (’93) receives Rockefeller Innovation Award for proposals on Social Security

For her original proposals on the fate of Social Security, Patricia Dilley (’93) was recognized by the National Academy of Social Insurance with the Rockefeller Innovation Award. Her efforts to improve Social Security target a group particularly at risk for poverty in old age: “single beneficiaries, especially women, who have worked a whole career at very low wages and either never married or were married less than 10 years,” said Dilley.

Dilley, who teaches in the retirement benefit field at the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law and began her career as a policy analyst at the Social Security Administration in the 1970s, is no stranger to the field. She was one of the principal drafters of the 1983 Social Security Amendments, the last major Social Security financing legislation, during her time working for the U.S. Congress as a professional staff member of the House Ways & Means Committee.

Her two proposals “amend the current benefit formula to increase the level of benefits for single retirees with at least 30 years of Social Security-covered employment whose regular benefits are below a specific amount” and call for “a special benefit increase for the oldest single beneficiaries with lifetime low wages, to provide an increase in monthly benefits of 10 percent beginning at age 85.” The second proposal is designed to ease the burden of single elderly retirees who frequently outlive their savings and other assets.

Dilley said these reforms are particularly important for this age group. “These retired workers are less likely to have family support networks to make up any gaps in income, and thus have less capacity to handle economic emergencies such as catastrophic medical expenses,” she said. “This group can also be expected to increase in size in the future given continued high divorce rates and the growing numbers of workers reaching old age who have never married or whose marriages lasted less than 10 years” - the minimum number of married years required to qualify for Social Security spousal and widows’ benefits.

The National Academy of Social Insurance found her solutions to these monumental issues as keeping with their primary goal of promoting "understanding of how social insurance contributes to economic security and a vibrant economy," according to its Web site.

“I think the…panel evaluating the proposals found my two proposals to be very targeted on a very vulnerable group of beneficiaries, while still being consistent with Social Security's fundamental principles of earnings-based, non-means tested benefits,” said Dilley.

Although Dilley said she thinks the most pressing issue the nation must face under the new Obama administration is economic recovery, she sees Social Security as a long-term issue that must be addressed in the future. Her innovative solutions may provide the framework to tackle this problem.

>>View the National Academy of Social Insurance Web site

Reported by Elizabeth Ress