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Big Issues for Candidates

Views on Social Security, Medicare and retirement security

Volunteers, including AARP Wisconsin President Pat Killeen, get pointers from on facilitating You've Earned a Say sessions about Social Security and Medicare.

Volunteers, including AARP Wisconsin President Pat Killeen, center facing camera, get pointers on facilitating You've Earned a Say sessions about Social Security and Medicare. — Photo by Darren Hauck

When David Krieg makes his choices in the voting booth in November, the candidates' views on the future of Social Security and Medicare will weigh heavily in his calculus.

See also: Voter ID requirements.

He relies on his Social Security benefits and Medicare insurance coverage for a comfortable and safe retirement, but both programs face long-term financial challenges driven by greater longevity and the size of the boomer generation.

"Whoever the president is, whoever is elected to Congress, they are going to have to face these issues," said Krieg, 80, of La Crosse. "They can't kick it down the road any further."

Without changes, Social Security is expected to pay full benefits only through 2033, with enough income after that to pay about 75 percent of scheduled benefits. Medicare's trust fund will run out of money to pay hospital costs in 2024.

Possible changes include increasing the income limit on payroll taxes that help finance Social Security, reducing benefits, increasing the age at which full benefits can be received by Americans who are now 55 or younger and reducing the cost-of-living increases that apply to continuing benefits.

AARP Wisconsin has asked congressional candidates to specify where they stand on the future of Social Security and Medicare.

For the most part, the voters have not gotten the facts, said Lisa Lamkins, AARP Wisconsin federal issues advocacy director.

"On the campaign trail, Social Security and Medicare have not been getting the attention they deserve," she said. "It's unfortunate because so many people in Wisconsin rely on these programs."

About four in 10 Wisconsin residents 65 and older would live in poverty if they did not receive Social Security, Lamkins said. More than a quarter of those rely on Social Security as their sole income

Throughout the spring and summer, AARP Wisconsin collected concerns and suggestions from state residents about Social Security and Medicare. These large and small gatherings, called You've Earned a Say, are conducted by Krieg and other volunteers.

In June, AARP Wisconsin began presenting the pros and cons of the major options.

"We want the public to be deeply educated on what the options are for reform of these programs," said Jim Flaherty, AARP Wisconsin communications director. "We want them to be well-armed when they meet with the candidates and get a chance to ask questions."

The efforts are especially important because of the unprecedented amount of political advertising, Lamkins said.

Next: Find out what's at stake. »

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