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A Landmark Program Turns 75

In August, Social Security turns 75. Today, more than one million Massachusetts residents, 53 million nationwide, count on Social Security – as retired workers, disabled workers, and spouses or children of deceased workers. But, while the nation celebrates this American success story, some politicians say the growing federal deficit should be reduced by cutting the Social Security benefits that workers have earned.

AARP Massachusetts recently held Community Conversations to hear, firsthand, from Social Security recipients – and spotlight how Social Security helps families. U.S. Rep. Richard Neal (D-2nd) was among the first to share his personal experience.

Economic security for millions

As the child of deceased workers, Rep. Neal benefited directly from Social Security at a young age. During an AARP Community Conversation in Agawam, he told the group, “For many years, I have fought hard to protect Social Security from being cut or privatized. As someone who grew up on Social Security survivor benefits, I personally know how this program provides economic security for millions of hard working men and women. Nearly 75 years ago, President Franklin Roosevelt made a pledge to the American people that they would not grow old in poverty. As we celebrate that historic anniversary today, let us remember Roosevelt’s vision, and rededicate ourselves to the promise he made to our nation’s seniors in 1935.”

Evolving to meet changing needs

For 75 years, Social Security has provided a guaranteed inflation-protected retirement benefit Americans can count on. Over the decades, Social Security has evolved to meet the changing needs of the day: extending benefits to spouses and children of deceased workers, and to disabled workers; offering early retirement benefits; adding cost of living adjustments (COLA) so benefits can keep up with inflation.

Keep Social Security Strong

“Bottom line: Social Security hasn’t contributed one dime to our nation’s deficit, so benefits shouldn’t be cut to fix it,” said Deborah Banda, state director of AARP Massachusetts, which represents more than 800,000 members age 50 and older in the Bay State. “That said, the deficit does threaten our economy and the financial security of future generations; it must be addressed. But,” she added, “instead of targeting Social Security for cuts, Congress should cut waste, close tax loopholes, and crack down on pork-barrel spending.”

AARP believes, and is working hard to ensure:

  • If you pay into Social Security, you will receive the benefits you’ve earned over a lifetime of hard work.
  • Your Social Security benefit will keep up with inflation for as long as you live.
  • If you become disabled and can no longer work, you will receive a benefit. And, if you die, your family will be protected.
  • You continue to have access to a decent early retirement benefit if you need it.

Bay State members speak out

Antonina DiPaolo, 83, of Marshfield started receiving Social Security benefits at age 65, a few years after her husband passed away. She believes, “Social Security was the best piece of legislation ever passed in our country, and I think it will be for all time. Being a senior I know how I look forward to that check. I know a lot of people who rely on Social Security as their sole source of income.” For nearly half of older Americans, Social Security is the principle source of family income.

Susan Rummel, 62, of Danvers needed to start collecting her Social Security benefits early when the economic crisis caused a downturn for her small business, and threatened her financial security. She believes, “Though I just started receiving my Social Security benefit a few months ago, I am glad to have that guaranteed income.”

Peter Dervis, 57, from Brookline has been receiving Social Security benefits as a disabled worker for nearly three years. His wife, Lynn Hoffman, 58, is Peter’s primary caregiver. She believes, “We’re both only in our 50’s and you can’t plan for a disability to hit you the way this did. Social Security was imperative for us; it saved our lives.”

Anne Margot, 75, and David Nasjleti, 83, of South Hadley worked hard to raise five children, including their son Mark, 41, who was born with Down syndrome. Today, Ann Margot and David receive Social Security benefits as retired workers; and, much to their relief, Mark receives childhood Social Security disability benefits. Ann Margot believes, “When our earned income came to an end, we know that without the Social Security disability benefits Mark will have for the rest of his life, we’d be torn between depriving ourselves of basic needs and cutting Mark off from a normal life in the community… Even after we disappear from the picture, we know Mark will never have to stand alone, thanks to Social Security.”

Five facts about Social Security

1. Americans earn and pay for Social Security’s guaranteed retirement benefits by making contributions out of each and every paycheck throughout their working lives. The average retirement benefit is $1,168 per month and is adjusted annually to keep pace with inflation.

2. Social Security’s guaranteed benefits are a rock solid commitment to American families. Companies can go out of business. Pensions can be terminated. The stock market can take a nose dive. Social Security benefits are there in good times and bad.

3. An average worker’s Social Security retirement benefit will only replace about $4 out of every $10 they earned while working. Social Security was never designed to be a worker’s sole source of income in retirement. Ideally, Social Security is a foundation that is strengthened when accompanied by a pension and private savings. While Social Security is the largest source of income for most retirees, for too many Americans, Social Security is all they have.

4. Social Security has been running a surplus and has not contributed one dime to our nation’s current deficit. In fact, Social Security surpluses have been masking the true size of the federal deficit for decades. Even in the midst of the current economic crisis, the $2.5 trillion Social Security Trust Fund continues to grow and is projected to reach $4.3 trillion by 2023.

5. Right now, Social Security can pay full benefits for decades, and three-quarters of promised benefits after that. But, that’s not good enough. A recent report by the United States Senate Special Committee on Aging confirms: We can make modest changes to Social Security in the near term to ensure that future generations receive adequate benefits, and strengthen Social Security’s financing for the long term.

Learn more

Now is the time to celebrate Social Security’s success; make it stronger for our children and grandchildren; and protect it from becoming a scapegoat for the escalating federal deficit. Participate in AARP’s “Keep Social Security Strong” pledge drive.

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