On Thursday, members of the Maine People’s Alliance visited the Bangor office of Senator Susan Collins to deliver petition signatures from Mainers across the state asking her to sign on to a bill to protect and expand Social Security.
Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) has proposed the “Strengthen Social Security Act” which would strengthen the retirement security system by increasing the cap on Social Security taxes so the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share into a system that works for everyone. The bill is seen as a common-sense alternative to cuts proposed by conservative members of Congress.
“For the thousands of retired or nearly-retired Mainers like me, cuts to Social Security could mean the difference between living in dignity or poverty,” said Skip Worcester of Bangor. “Senator Susan Collins talks often about working hard on behalf of Maine’s aging population; it’s time to demonstrate leadership on this issue by co-sponsoring Senator Harkin’s bill.”
Mainers also presented the Senator’s staff with a stool to symbolize the “legs” of retirement security – the public systems like Social Security and Medicare, as well as employer-based pension plans and private savings – to serve as a reminder that all three legs are instrumental in a strong retirement security system.
“Even though I worked until I was 78 years old before starting to collect Social Security, my monthly benefit still does not cover the four (or five) week span before the next benefit arrives. I have to dip into my savings by the end of that period and they are running low very quickly,” said Eileen Ward of Glenburn. “I loved my career as a social worker but couldn’t save significantly at the same time that I was paying off my mortgage and car, and working at a nonprofit meant there was no pension plan.”
In Maine, the state with the oldest population in the nation, almost a quarter of the population receives benefits from Social Security, benefits that account for 7.6% of the state’s total personal income. The program also has a sizable impact on keeping Maine seniors out of poverty. From 2009-2011 it was estimated that almost 40% of Mainers over 65 were kept out of poverty because of Social Security.
Congressional Republicans have attempted to pass various forms of cuts to Social Security, including a plan to tie benefits to a chained Consumer Price Index (CPI), reducing critical benefits for millions of retirees. More recently Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) has included a fast-tracking process in his latest budget proposal that would allow Congress to expedite cuts to Social Security and Medicare, potentially further eroding a vital system for millions of Americans.
“For 78 years, even as our nation endured wars, political turmoil and economic crises, Social Security has never missed a payment; it’s paid every dollar on time and in full,” added Ward. "Maine's elected officials in Washington must reject any attempts to cut benefits and instead make sure that the Social Security system I've paid into my entire working life is protected and strengthened for my generation, and for generations to come."