By Becci Robbins
SC Alliance for Retired Americnas
Seventy-five years ago this week, FDR signed the Social Security Act into law. As senior and retiree groups threw parties across the country to mark the occasion, opponents of Social Security continued their multimillion dollar campaign to fool the public into believing that benefits for seniors must be cut to reduce the deficit.
It is a cruel message that puts the burden of fixing the country’s financial problems on the backs of seniors and people with disabilities. It is also dishonest.
They don’t blame our economic problems on Wall Street bailouts, tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans or funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
And they won’t tell you that Social Security’s solvency can be resolved with small adjustments, such as raising the payroll tax cap on Social Security taxes for the wealthy or by freezing the estate tax and applying that money to the program.
Those who depend on Social Security — or love someone who does — would do well to pay attention to what’s going on. The next couple of months are critical.
In December, President Obama’s Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform will offer to Congress its recommendations on how to reduce the deficit. Given the make-up of the body, it’s likely that Social Security and Medicare will be targets.
The Commission’s co-chair, for one, famously described older Americans as “greedy geezers” and supported efforts to privatize Social Security. If he’d had his way, those investment accounts by now would have lost 20 percent of their value.
While the Commission has several other known foes of entitlement programs, it also includes US Rep. John Spratt, who promises to continue to work to keep Social Security strong for future generations. South Carolina voters have a unique opportunity to engage their family, their neighbors and the congressman on this matter to make sure he stays true to his commitment.
Social Security, funded with taxes paid by workers and their employers, is a promise between generations that belongs to the people who have worked hard their whole lives to provide for their families.
The program is critical to many of South Carolina’s retirees and their spouses. Don Thacker, 80, says Social Security and Medicare allow him to live at home and get medical care as an outpatient. “Many people live on very limited incomes in South Carolina and have to make choices between food and medicine,” he said. “These programs make a difference.”
Columbia resident Ruby James says, “I worked for many years and then became disabled. I’m able to live now off of my Social Security.” Her daughter’s husband died at a young age, leaving her with three children, one with a disability. Social Security benefits helped two of those children finish college.
Without Social Security, 19.8 million more Americans would be poor, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Without Social Security, 45.2 percent of elderly Americans would live below the poverty line.
But Social Security doesn’t just benefit seniors; children and people with disabilities also depend on the program. The program lifts more than 1 million children out of poverty. And it is is the most important source of income for the 112,000 children living in South Carolina’s grandfamilies, households headed by a grandparent or other relative.
Sue Berkowitz says that her husband and a former roommate would not have been able to attend college if not for Social Security benefits. “So even though we were prior to retirement age, I know two people who are dear to me who it helped.”
While the debate rages about how to manage our national deficit, the loudest voices are spreading fear and misinformation. The rest of us need to make our own voices heard at the polls in November.
SC AFL-CIO President Donna Dewitt and SC Progressive Network Director Brett Bursey honor US Congressman John Spratt with a plaque at a SC Allilance for Retired Americans party celebrating Social Security’s birthday in Rock Hill on Aug. 13. See more photos here.