The debt-reduction supercommittee is hard at work in Congress right now looking for places to cut the deficit. Some people would have the committee drastically cut funding for Social Security, which is one of the most important sources of income for low-income people and elderly Americans, especially women. This approach is unacceptable and will not solve our country’s debt problems and would leave many Americans far less economically secure than before.
Social Security must be kept intact. Social Security disability and survivor benefits protect millions of women and children and pay more benefits to children than any other program, including welfare. Ninety-five percent of Mainers over 65 receive benefits, as do over 24,000 Maine children. According to data from the Social Security Administration and the U.S. Census Bureau, without Social Security, over 120,000 Maine residents would fall into poverty.
Social Security is among the best, most efficiently run antipoverty programs we have. In particular, the benefits Social Security pays out are critical for elderly women, more than half of whom would fall into poverty without Social Security.
During their lives, many women are committed to unpaid child care for their children, rather than to garnering high salaries. Therefore, they have less access to retirement plans such as the 401(k).
When women work, they face an ongoing pay gap with men, with Maine women making, on average, 79 cents to each dollar that men earn. In their later years, women often are found again, in lieu of employment, in care-giving roles for their elderly parents or husbands. Further, women outlive men and must make their resources last longer.
For all these reasons, Social Security is vital to the many women whose income during their lifetimes left them with below average retirement funds.
Some proponents of cutting Social Security claim that doing so would not drastically hurt older Americans, children and other recipients. Yet cuts would destabilize the economic security of those who rely on Social Security.
Benefits, which provide part, but often not all, of the financial needs of recipients, have been cut before, hurting millions of Americans. Privatization schemes are problematic because they open the door to workers losing their savings in volatile markets — something with which many of us are all too familiar. Raising the retirement age, which might sound fine at first blush, is a nonstarter for the many Americans in occupations requiring physical labor, such as construction or nursing.
Social Security must be kept intact because it is part of a commitment we as Americans make to one another across the generations. Social Security has not contributed to the deficit and is not paid for by taxes.
I understand the desire of the members of the debt supercommittee to get America’s financial house in order, but Social Security is an unacceptable target for their attention.
The deficit reduction bill that will be crafted by the supercommittee will be guaranteed an up-or-down vote in Congress. When the bill reaches the floors of the House and Senate, the bill may not be modified with amendments. Further, senators may not filibuster the bill. Thus, now is the time to make one’s opinion heard.
I strongly urge Sens. Snowe and Collins and Reps. Michaud and Pingree to think of the nearly 300,000 Maine residents who receive Social Security benefits and vote against any plan which would negatively impact so many of our neighbors and ourselves. Raise your voice now; write to Maine’s members of Congress before it’s too late.
Bets Brown is the public policy chairwoman of the American Association of University Women of Maine, based in South China.