AARP Brings Main Stream America into Social Security Debate

            Published July 27, 2012, Pawtucket Times

            With Congressional and the Presidential elections looming, just a few months away, aging baby boomers and seniors might well consider the recently released Social Security Trustees’ annual report as “a canary in a mine.”  Like a dead canary that warns  miners that a deadly gas is seeping underground, the 242 page report details the fragile health of the nation’s Medicare and Social Security Trust Fund, giving early warning to drastically cut retirement benefits if the President and Congress takes no action. 

             While thousands of media outlets across the nation reported on the impending bankruptcy of these programs, the Social Security Trustees called for immediate  action.  Meanwhile, the upcoming November elections keeps Congressional Democrats and Republications along with the Obama Administration from working to find a viable bipartisan fix.   Fear of turning away older voters has truly derailed needed policy reforms for this year.  

             The Trustee’s reaffirm that the Social Security program can pay full benefits until 2033, however, they warned that probably only three-quarters of promised benefits could be paid out beyond that time.  If this observation is correct it will become more difficult for aging baby boomers to plan their retirement. 

Fixing Social Security Ranked High

            Fixing Social Security is a high priority for the nation’s growing older population and will most likely be a key domestic policy issue to be discussed by Congressional candidates looking for votes to put them into office in Washington, DC next November.  Congressional and Presidential candidates be warned… According to an AARP survey, released in January 2012, of respondents age 50 and over, Social Security and Medicare ranked three out of 13 issues, with job growth and rising health care costs being number one and two respectively. 

            AARP Rhode Island, the OceanState’s largest aging advocacy group, has geared up its “You’ve Earned a Say,” initiative to gather grassroots feedback from “Outside the Beltway” to bring to Congressional lawmakers as they continue their debates as to how to bolster the solvency of the nation’s Social Security and Medicare programs.  AARP hopes that this initiative will create a national conversation to ensure that every worker, who has contributed into Medicare and Social Security, has a direct say in the future reforms of these programs.

             According to AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen S. Connell, AARP’s “You’ve Earned a Say” initiative was created to bring balanced information to people — both the pros and the cons — about the policy options being debated during the upcoming Presidential and Congressional elections for both programs. 

            “You’ve Earned a Say’ is giving the American people a strong and visible voice in the Social Security and Medicare discussion,” says Connell. “We are reaching out to our 130,000 Rhode Island members and nationally to nearly 40 million members.  Television commercials are now playing in Rhode Island, raising the awareness of viewers to AARP’s initiative and its website, www.earnedasay.org.  The website provides both factual and straightforward information as to policies that are being considered and enables a person to share their ideas with Congress and those running against Congressional incumbents, as how to strengthen these programs.

            According to Connell, one million people have participated in the “You’ve Earned a Say” grassroots initiative nationwide that kicked off in early Spring.  Their opinions have been shared online.  Meanwhile, tens of thousands have participated in more than 1,400 community meetings throughout the nation, she said, noting that more than a dozen have been held in the Rhode Island.

No More Political Spins, Jargon

            Americans are just plain tired of the political spins, jargon and rhetoric surrounding fixing the Social Security and Medicare programs, says Connell, even the backroom deals to change these programs in smoke filled rooms.  Over the years policy debates in Washington, DC have focused too much on budgetary line items and numbers and not on the immediate concerns, and real needs, of older Americans, she says.  

          But there is a central theme that comes from AARP’s dialogue with mainstream America.  That is most people feel that Washington is out of touch and not listening “They’re not listening to the concerns of people or talking about the real health and retirement income needs of older Americans. They’re not talking about what’s fair or about the effects of proposed changes on real people, quips Connell.

 A Bleak Retirement…

            Connell says that in Rhode Island 200,202 residents depend on Social Security benefits to help pay the bills every month, and 181,264 count on Medicare to help them afford health care, including guaranteed coverage for doctors, hospitals and prescription drugs.  

            Yes, policy decisions impact people’s lives.  If the President and Congress next year don’t find a bipartisan solution with input from those outside the Washington, D.C., a significantnumber of older Rhode Islanders might just well find their retirement year’s bleak at best.

            AARP’s  “You’ve Earned a Say” grassroots initiative may be just the way to finally educate older American voters, those who might just begin to put intense pressure on both the Democrats and Republicans alike, to make a long-term policy fixes.  Band aide solutions will haunt the upcoming generations who will financially suffer in their twilight years.  Shame on Congress if this occurs.

           Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who covers aging, health care and medical care issues.  The article was published in the July 27th issue of the Pawtucket Times. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

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