Few Americans have been immune to the effects of the ongoing economic recession — particularly here in Maine. Families have felt the pinch and small businesses, the backbone of our economy, have struggled to thrive. Retirees and those living on fixed incomes have been forced to try to make ends meet with real estate and investment nest eggs that have lost as much as half their value since 2007.
With cautious optimism we are looking forward to better days ahead, rebuilding our savings and getting Maine’s workforce back up to full strength. Yet until Washington rolls up its sleeves and confront the challenges ahead for Social Security and Medicare, we are far from out of the woods. Working to ensure these two vital programs remain solvent in the future is not just critical for the Mainers whose health and welfare depend on them today, but also for current and future workers who are paying into these systems with a reasonable expectation of future returns. Furthermore, in the absence of a long-term solution, the inevitable shortfalls that we will see in Social Security and Medicare would trigger an economic crisis that would make our Great Recession look like a walk in the park.
As we all know, Mainers are strong people. Our senior citizens, who thrive here winter after winter, are uniquely resilient. But that doesn’t mean they can do it without the support of these programs that they worked to fund. Social Security is the only source of income for one-third of Maine’s senior citizens and the average check is just about $1,064.00 a month. Medicare is even more critical, covering most health care costs for 95 percent of this population. Without Social Security and Medicare, Maine’s seniors, and some of our most vulnerable residents, would be literally left out in the cold.
It is crucial that we all take responsibility to ensure that Social Security and Medicare remain financially viable — we all benefit when the older generation retains their health and independence. We want these programs to be there for us when we retire so we can remain healthy and financially independent, and so that the younger generation can focus on getting their own financial house in order. There are many options on the table to address these programs and each have their pros and cons. But in order to pass comprehensive reform, we all need to engage in the necessary discourse and work together with our elected officials toward a viable solution.
As you might imagine, AARP is keenly interested in hearing what their members, and all Americans, have to say about the future of Social Security and Medicare. Lori Parham is the state director for AARP in Maine, and I recently had the opportunity to sit down with her and discuss the way forward. Lori and her team are working hard to engage Mainers of all ages to have their say about the future of Medicare and Social Security. Whether you are actively contributing to these programs with your own payroll taxes, or you have already done your part and are now reaping the benefits, we all deserve to have our voices heard as we work together to focus on a bright future for Maine and America.
You can share your views at earnedasay.org or by calling 1-888-OUR-AARP. The more people from Maine speak up, the better.
Nelson Durgin is a long time AARP member involved with several organizations serving elderly persons. He also is a Bangor City Councilor.