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Group urges Loebsack to fight to preserve Social Security
CEDAR RAPIDS — Before U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack rushed off to his next stop, Cedar Rapids residents at the Witwer Senior Center slipped a birthday card into his hand that each of them had signed. The card was for Social Security, and was designed to serve as a reminder to the Mount Vernon Democrat that the program is a promise to working Americans that cannot and should not be broken.
Loebsack assured the crowd that he shared their urgency and resolve toward the government program because he had benefited personally from it.
“Without Social Security benefits that I received through my father, I would not have made it to college,” said Loebsack, a native of Sioux City who was raised in poverty by a single mother.
“Social Security is not only there to support folks over the age of 62 or 65 or 66. There are a number of very critical benefits that Social Security provides, such as disability. Those are absolutely essential, especially to keep people out of poverty and sometimes, like was the case with me, to help people get through college. That’s why we’ve got to do this.”
The “this” referred to by Loebsack is raising awareness about what Social Security is, who it benefits and what’s at stake during current national discussions surrounding deficit reduction, according to Midge Slater, a field organizer for the Iowa Alliance for Retired Americans.
“A Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform was created by President [Barack] Obama in February. It is a bipartisan commission that is taking a look at the federal deficit, but we are very concerned about that commission because in December they will send a recommendation to Congress that will be voted up or down without debate,” Slater said.
“We know right now that they are mentioning the possibility of perhaps doing something with Social Security and Medicare to help address the deficit. We think that is an abomination. Social Security did not contribute to the deficit. Social Security is not just another fund that’s out there. It is an entitlement that we, as workers, have paid into.”
According to a study that was released by Social Security Works, a project of the Tides Advocacy Fund, in conjunction with Social Security’s 75th birthday this month, about 563,600 people in Iowa, or more than one out of six residents, receive Social Security benefits. Iowans receive benefits totaling more than $7.2 billion per year, an amount equivalent to the more than five percent of the state’s annual Gross Domestic Product (the total value of all goods and services produced).
It is believed that Social Security benefits were stripped from Iowans, more than 150,000 residents over the age of 65 would dip into poverty.
What the Alliance for Retired Persons and other groups organizing around the 75th anniversary of the program hope to do is dispel myths surrounding the program — myths that have misled the public into believing that the program cannot continue, according to Slater.
“It is 75 years old, and is quite a healthy senior citizen. We think it should stay around for at least another 75 years,” Slater said.
By law, Social Security’s funds are separate from the budget, and it must pay its own way. The very way that the program is organized, according to Slater, makes it impossible for Social Security to be contributing to the national deficit.
By 2023, according to literature produced by the Iowa Alliance for Retired Persons, Social Security will have a $4.6 trillion surplus, and can pay all scheduled benefits for the next quarter-century. After 2037, it will still be able to pay out 75 percent of scheduled benefits, because the program began preparing for the influx of “Baby Boomers” decades ago.
Although the Deficit Commission and some politicians have made rumblings about the need to push back retirement age to make up the remaining 25 percent of scheduled benefits, Loebsack argues that workers deserve better.
“When I say everything is on the table, I’m not talking about a reduction of benefits. I know that is what some people are talking about, but that’s not what I’m talking about,” Loebsack said.
“You go tell someone who has been working a very, very difficult job that entails a lot of physical labor [that the retirement age should be pushed back.] Their bodies cannot take that past the age of 65. They’ve been doing these jobs for decades.”
In order to strengthen the existing program Loebsack and the Alliance believe that income above the current $106,000 cap should be taxed for Social Security.
“It’s no secret that I make $174,000 a year as a Congressman,” Loebsack said. “I believe that I should be paying the full 6.2 percent to Social Security on that entire salary.
“We can do this — there are ways to do this without cutting benefits and without raising the retirement age. And we must. We made a promise.”