I first ran for state Senate in 2000 as a woman who didn’t consider herself a politician. I was proud to spend the next eight years successfully working to raise our minimum wage, secure unemployment benefits for part-time workers and improve labor standards around the state. As Maine Senate president, I believed — and I still believe, 14 years after my first run for office — that government needs to represent working people’s interests, not just wealthy corporate interests.
I also believe government needs to support retired Americans who put a lifetime of work into building their communities and their country. That’s why I’m supporting Shenna Bellows in this year’s U.S. Senate election. Shenna understands that federal policymakers need to support their constituents at every step: when they’re getting an education, when they’re working, when they’re taking care of their families and — just as importantly — when they retire. That’s exactly what we need from our next senator.
Shenna has spoken powerfully about the need for Congress to increase Social Security benefits and to get rid of the contribution cap that mostly benefits the very wealthy. She understands the importance of bills such as the RAISE Act, which helps widows, widowers, divorcees and the children of disability beneficiaries receive the full benefits they deserve and have earned. She’s making retirement security a big part of her case to the voters this year. I agree with her about how important this is to Maine, and I’m hardly alone.
It concerns me that U.S. Sen. Susan Collins has endorsed Gov. Paul LePage for re-election this year, considering his stated belief that Social Security and Medicare are nothing more than “welfare.” It also concerns me that she voted for the Budget Control Act, which deeply cut into the Social Security Administration budget and has led to about 11,000 employees being laid off over the past three years. She needs to be more forthcoming about what she really plans for Social Security, especially if Republicans control the Senate after this year. Social Security is good for our families, and it’s good for our economy. We need to get politicians’ hands off it, period.
Shenna understands that. She also understands how important it is to support and sustain a healthy economy for workers before they retire. Some politicians make the mistake of thinking economic policy and retirement policies are unrelated. Shenna knows that by raising the minimum wage, supporting fair trade that doesn’t ship jobs overseas, and increasing the ability of employees to organize for fair wages and working standards, Congress can make it easier for Americans to save while they’re working and retire with economic security.
This is especially important in Maine. Social Security provided benefits to more than 314,000 Maine residents in 2012 — nearly 24 percent of our population. Maine residents received $4 billion in Social Security benefits in 2012. Imagine us doing without that support, which we earned ourselves by working and paying into the system, and you see what we’d have if we cut it off in the name of “welfare reform.” It’s true Social Security lifted about 114,000 Maine residents out of poverty in 2011. I agree with Shenna that it’s a feature, not a problem, of our Social Security system.
We need better retirement security policies now more than ever because the economic struggles our state and our country continue to face will have long-term impacts. Private sources of retirement income have diminished — there’s no getting around that. Employers are cutting back on traditional pension plans. We can’t just lecture working people and retirees about needing to work harder or longer. We need an elected leader who understands the big picture.
Shenna understands the big picture. Maine needs someone with her vision leading the way, not just to a more secure retirement but to a better experience for all of us at every step of our lives. I’m supporting her this year, and I hope you’ll join me.
Beth Edmonds of Freeport served in the Maine Senate from 2000 to 2008. From 2004 to 2008, she served as Senate president.