By Jan Worth-Nelson
Nobody should live in poverty because they’re old, Congressman Dan Kildee declared to a group of about 35 community leaders today in Flint, and no one around the table disagreed.
But pension systems and Social Security as they function today for many elderly are not adequate and need strengthening, Kildee said.
Among those at the table in the Ferris Wheel Building were leaders from the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), local politicians, labor leaders and representatives of departments on aging and services to seniors.
The primary focus of the conversation was proposed legislation introduced last month by John Larson, Kildee and 200 more signatories called The Social Security 2100 Act.
The act would increase benefits for all current and future Social Security recipients, cut taxes for close to 12 million seniors, and ensure the system remains solvent for the rest of the century by strengthening the trust fund underpinning it, according to a summary provided by Kildee’s office.
On the benefits side, the proposed bill would:
–Increase benefits by about two percent.
— Protect against inflation and set minimums at 25% above the poverty line
–Cut taxes for beneficiaries, raising the threshold from $25,000 to $50,000 for individuals and from $50,000 to $100,000 for couples.
To pay for the reforms, the bill would:
–Have millionaires and billionaires pay the same rate as everyone else,
–Phase in an increase in the contribution rate beginning in 2020 from 6.2% to 7.4%, in increase for the average worker of about 50 cents per week.
–Establish a Social Security Trust Fund by combining two existing funds to ensure all benefits would be paid.
Kildee acknowledged the bill might face a challenging path in a divided Congress with an unpredictable president, but said he and the other sponsors at least aim to get the topics of pension and Social Security reforms into the conversations of 2020 candidates for the presidency and Senate.
Kildee said in addition to hearing from labor leaders and social services providers about the conditions of the elderly, he has been influenced by the casework of his own staff in Flint.
“We deal with people who are really struggling– people having a hard time — they’re surviving on Social Security and it’s not enough to live in any kind of dignity. This was not what FDR (Franklin. D. Roosevelt) imagined back in the 1930s. Back then Social Security was seen as a radical step. Our proposal is not as radical but based on the same principle — nobody should live in poverty because they’re old.”
One speaker at the roundtable said he noted in a recent plane trip that the average age of the flight attendants was “about 58.”
“We’re pushing our people back to working because they can’t afford to enjoy retirement, and that’s really a problem. This is going to continue. In ten years we’ll have more people on welfare who are retirees,” he said.
That matters, Kildee said, because Social Security has become “the foundation of retirement in America.”
After the meeting Kildee noted much conversation at the roundtable focused on strengthening the pension system. There is a pension crisis in this country, he said, with many private pensions at risk.
He said “austerity-based” decisions being made in State capitals, Lansing being no exception, are undermining the finances of local governments and having an impact on their ability to support their pension obligations.
“Sometimes we think of this as disconnected problems, but the austerity measures imposed on Flint, Genesee County, Bay County are having an impact. The fundamental problem is that the municipal finance system is completely broken.”
He said some people believed moving away from “defined benefit retirement plans” like pensions and 401K programs was the solution to the problem, but it actually was “just shifting the problem to somebody else.” And often in an era of pension cuts even those who have them find their benefits decreasing and inadequate.
Addressing problems in improving the system, Kildee commented, “We didn’t get into this difficult spot we’re in in one year or one term, and we aren’t going to get out of it in one year or one term. We have to commit to one another.
“We’re just not going to take it any more — this idea that we can’t have retirement security for Americans–that this has to be one of those cases in the marketplace where some people win and some people lose. I just don’t fundamentally accept that.”
Kildee represents the Fifth Congressional District including Genesee County, Arenac, Bay, Iosco and parts of Tuscola counties.
Banner photo: Community leaders meeting with Kildee in the Ferris Wheel Building (Photo by Jan Worth-Nelson)
EVM Editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.