The Future Is At Stake

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kathleen s. connell

On the Inside by Kathleen S. Connell

By Kathleen Connell

Happy New Year!

Perhaps, like myself, you passed along the seasonal salutation with an afterthought that the overwhelming “new” will hit home January 20. A new president and a new Congress seem determined to implement sweeping changes.

Given that so many Senior Digest readers are AARP members who collect Social Security and are covered by Medicare, it is important that I answer questions about where AARP stands. You may recall, our volunteers dogged presidential and Congressional candidates for most of a year, asking them to “Take a Stand” on Social Security.

No one appears to disagree that changes in Social Security are necessary to protect its future. If no action is taken, a cut in benefits is certain. We asked candidates to produce their plan for preserving Social Security. Answers tended to be reassuring, but in most cases a bit vague.

Candidate Donald Trump responded by stating that, in addition to reducing fraud and abuse, as president he would cut taxes, reign in the size of the government workforce, reform immigration and repeal of the Affordable Care Act. The result, he said, will be sustainable economic growth rates and a strengthened Social Security.

“If we are able to sustain growth rates in GDP that we had as a result of the Kennedy and Reagan tax reforms, we will be able to secure Social Security for the future,” Trump said. “As our demography changes, a prudent administration would begin to examine what changes might be necessary for future generations. Our goal is to keep the promises made to Americans through our Social Security program.”

It’s timely then that I report what AARP has to say on the record about our Social Security advocacy in 2017.

These are the principles that will guide us once there is a legislative debate about the future of this vital program.

  • Achieve long-term solvency and adequacy. Social Security should be sufficiently financed to ensure solvency for the long term. Solvency proposals must ensure meaningful benefits for future generations.
  • Reaffirm Social Security’s fundamental character. Social Security should continue to provide a stable foundation for retirement income. It should remain a partnership among individuals, employers and the federal government. It should also maintain its role in providing protection for workers and families affected by death or disability. All covered workers should contribute equitably to the program and receive benefits.
  • Ensure protections for those most in need. Reforms should take into account the needs of those most reliant on Social Security and those who have difficulty postponing retirement.
  • Recognize the value of Social Security’s core elements. Social Security should continue to reward work. The key elements of Social Security’s successful program structure should be preserved: progressive, defined benefits that cannot be outlived; inflation protection; and benefits related to earnings.
  • Make improvements to reflect today’s workforce. An updated Social Security program must address the economic and demographic changes over the last 80 years to be able to respond to the needs of future beneficiaries and their families.
  • Ensure fairness. Changes to the program should be implemented gradually and should protect current beneficiaries and near retirees.

Fairness is a key concern. Too many retirees on fixed incomes depend on Social Security and would be hard hit if they were burdened by an unfair proportion of the cost of fixing it.

Among Rhode Island’s 210,975 Social Security beneficiaries, 23% say the program provides 90% or more of their income. More than half say benefits represents 50% or more of their income.

And then, there’s Medicare.

AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins, writing in December, promised members that AARP will remain on the frontlines of protecting Medicare. “AARP will flatly oppose any attempts to cut, scale back or diminish the benefits that Medicare provides. This includes any efforts to eliminate the guaranteed level of Medicare coverage that current and future generations of Americans have paid in to, expect and deserve,” she said.

“During the campaign, President-elect Trump repeatedly pledged not to cut Medicare. Americans are counting on him to keep that promise, and we will fight hard to help him deliver on it.

“But Congress matters, too,” Jenkins added. “Some congressional leaders want to change Medicare in ways that would cut benefits and force seniors to pay more for their health care. Those plans would expose seniors to rising health care costs and deprive them of the protection of guaranteed coverage.

“It’s not right. It’s not what Americans want. And it will not stand.”

Happy New Year. We are living in interesting times.

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