Many in Congress are considering harmful cuts to Social Security and Medicare as part of a plan to raise America’s debt ceiling and reduce the federal budget deficit.
Currently, there are a variety of proposals on the table that would place “across-the board” arbitrary limits on federal spending. This could trigger cuts to Social Security and Medicare – which may dramatically increase out-of-pocket health care costs and reduce Social Security checks for our nation’s seniors.
The average Social Security benefit paid to a retiree is $1,200 per month. That modest benefit keeps thousands of older Montanans out of poverty and allows tens of thousands more to live their retirement years independently and with peace of mind. In fact, about 19 percent of all Montanans are receiving Social Security. Nearly one-third of those rely on the program for 90 percent or more of their income and nearly two-thirds rely on Social Security for 50 percent or more of their income.
Older Americans – indeed all working Americans – have earned their Social Security. It is financed through payroll contributions, and is separate from the rest of the federal budget.
Social Security has not contributed to our nation’s debt. Rather, Social Security has sufficient reserves and revenue to pay 100 percent of promised benefits until 2036. After that date, even with no change in the current program, Social Security will continue to pay about 75 percent of promised benefits.
Some in Congress have also focused on dramatic changes to Medicare as a means of reducing the federal deficit.
While it is true that Medicare costs are rising, so too are all health care costs. Certainly, rising health care costs are a matter of national concern; and a thoughtful and comprehensive look at this issue needs to continue. But placing arbitrary caps on Medicare will inevitably place more of the financial burden for medical care on our seniors – additional financial burdens which many seniors simply cannot afford.
Today, more than 167,580 Montanans depend on Medicare – about 17 percent of the state’s total population.
Of course Congress needs to address our large and growing debt, but not by harming seniors and future retirees. They should start by cutting waste, fraud and inefficiency – not by cutting funding for programs that are a lifeline to millions of older Americans. Social Security and Medicare need to be strengthened – not harmed.
Ethel Percy Andrus, the founder of AARP, once said that “an army of useful citizens can do what no one person can do alone.” With our heritage of fighting for older Americans clearly in mind, AARP will continue to fight to protect Social Security and Medicare for today’s seniors and future generations of Americans.
Right now, we need the voices of those 50 and older to help us tell members of Congress, in no uncertain terms, to oppose any harmful cuts to Social Security and Medicare. We are urging older Americans to contact their elected officials with the message that they should not harm Medicare and Social Security as they work to solve our deficit problems.
In short, our nation needs a thoughtful debate on these issues. America made a promise to our nation’s seniors. Today’s retirees spent their working years building this great country while dutifully paying into the system. Our leaders owe America’s current and future seniors policies that will allow them to live their retirement years with security and peace of mind.
Joy Bruck is the AARP Montana state president
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