Op-Ed

At 84, Social Security faces the same dire threats as the seniors that it serves | Opinion

In 2015, activists participate in a rally in front of the White House urging the expansion of Social Security benefits.
In 2015, activists participate in a rally in front of the White House urging the expansion of Social Security benefits. Getty Images

Social Security turns 84 this week in an America where companies are dumping pensions, seniors’ costs keep rising and Social Security’s reserves could be depleted within 16 short years.

Now is not the time for broken promises, it is a time for serious action.

During the Great Depression, as many as half of older Americans were impoverished; some were even forced into poorhouses, and too many faced a bleak existence. That began to change on Aug. 14, 1935, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law. By its birthday in 2017, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, Social Security was lifting roughly 15 million seniors out of poverty. Combine Social Security with healthcare assistance from Medicare, and America has created a basic level of protection for seniors.

But this year, Social Security’s birthday is not a rosy affair. The Social Security Administration predicts that it will exhaust its trust fund in 16 years (2035). Even more dire, the Congressional Budget Office predicted reserves will be exhausted in just 13 years (2032). That means if we do nothing, someone who is 65 today could see a reduction in his/her Social Security benefits around their 80th birthday.

That, alone, is a big enough problem, but seniors are also facing fewer steady retirement income options. On Aug. 7, Axios reported that, “Companies are racing to dump their pension plans” and replace them with 401Ks –– something that was not designed to be a replacement for pensions –– making Social Security an even more important steady source of income for many retirees.

Social Security’s birthday this year also comes at a time when the White House is actively moving to have the courts overturn the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in its entirety — and without the ACA, drugmakers would no longer be required to provide discounts for seniors who fall into the Medicare Part D coverage gap.

Juliette Cubanski, associate director of Medicare policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, explained to Politico just what that means: “Without Obamacare, many seniors would likely spend around $2,000 or more in out-of-pocket drug costs each year.”

Greater need from the decline in pensions and the uncertain future in healthcare costs make Social Security that much more important for many seniors, and makes Social Security’s financial troubles all the more alarming.

We don’t have time for foolishness, lies, or antics. We need to focus on solutions for Social Security and raise seniors’ living standards, not put their prescription drug assistance at risk.

One solution, signed on to by 11 members of Florida’s Democratic delegation, is the Social Security 2100 Act. This proposal would increase Social Security benefits, set a minimum Social Security benefit at 25 percent above the federal poverty line and could extend Social Security’s solvency through the end of the century.

While the White House is busy with absurd lawsuits that could raise drug prices on some Medicare recipients — breaking its promises to seniors — Democrats are working to ensure that Social Security will continue to provide a steady base income for today’s seniors and still be here for decades to come.

It’s time to cast aside reality-TV politics and get back to work for Floridians and all Americans.

Terrie Rizzo is chair of the Florida Democratic Party.

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