By Congressman Bart Stupak (D-MI)
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Social Security is one of the great American success stories, and August 14 marks the program’s 75th anniversary. On August 14, 1935, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law; and since then Social Security has been providing our seniors, disabled citizens, children, and widows and widowers with a guaranteed source of income. At the end of last year, 53 million Americans were receiving Social Security benefits, including 36 million retired workers and their dependents, 6 million survivors of deceased workers and 10 million disabled workers and their dependents.
Social Security provides life-long wage insurance that is paid for by payroll contributions from workers and employers. These contributions come back to Americans by providing monthly income when they retire or become disabled or to family members when an individual passes away. This program will remain critical in light of the fact that only half of our nation’s workforce has a retirement plan through work, and employer-sponsored benefit pension plans are quickly being replaced by riskier employee savings plans.
Social Security is especially important to residents here in northern Michigan. The First District ranks 8th in the nation in terms of the number of Social Security recipients, with nearly 164,000 people drawing Social Security each month. Social Security provides the only income for many of our neighbors to live with a sense of dignity and independence.
Seniors in northern Michigan, and nationwide, have worked hard all their lives, seeing our country through war, the depression and dramatic social changes. Without Social Security one in every two seniors would be living in poverty, and today six in 10 seniors rely on Social Security for more than half of their income.
These men and women also deserve Social Security benefits based on the true cost of the goods they purchase. That is why I have co-sponsored legislation to establish a "seniors only" Consumer Price Index (CPI) to account for seniors’ different buying habits. This would ensure a truer senior Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA).
Social Security has provided consistent and reliable income for retired and disabled workers even during times of economic turbulence. It has remained strong through 13 recessions. During our most recent economic downturn, when 401(k)s and IRAs lost 32 percent of their value, individuals on Social Security did not lose a dime.
That is why I do not support renewed efforts to privatize Social Security. Many privatization proposals rely on a manufactured crisis claiming that Social Security will soon be "bankrupt." But the fact is, as long as workers continue to pay into the system it will never become bankrupt. Currently the fund is large enough to pay full benefits through 2037 and 75 percent of scheduled benefits after that. Clearly some adjustments will need to be made to continue to fully fund benefits after 2037, but subjecting the program to the whims of Wall Street is not the solution we need.
Social Security is a uniquely American system that guarantees a retirement nest egg will be there for workers when they retire or become disabled. Benefits have been paid on time and in full every single month for 75 years, providing critical income to our retired and disabled workers and their families. We must work together to determine long-term solutions that ensure benefits can be paid in full for another 75 years, and beyond, without putting the financial security that is the bedrock of the Social Security program at risk.