While it’s true that control of the U.S. Senate rests on the outcome of the Georgia runoff elections, there is something more immediate at stake for the state’s voters – especially seniors. The future of their vital Social Security and Medicare benefits – earned after a lifetime of hard work – rides on the results of tomorrow’s runoffs.
Perhaps at no other time since the Great Depression have seniors’ earned benefits been so crucial. The pandemic has taken a heavy toll on seniors – both physically and financially. Before and during this crisis, Social Security and Medicare have functioned as social insurance lifelines, which is, of course, their original purpose. Without Social Security, the poverty rate in Georgia would be a whopping 44%. (With those benefits, it is 13%.) For Black and LatinX seniors – who are especially reliant on Social Security for income – the poverty rate would approach or exceed 50% without their earned benefits.
Valuable as they are, Social Security and Medicare both need enhancements to meet seniors’ actual needs. Today, too many seniors find themselves unable to afford basics like housing, food, and healthcare, caught between modest fixed incomes and escalating living costs. Nearly 54 percent of older Georgians “struggle to pay for basic necessities,” according to a report by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI). “Only two other states have a greater proportion of economically vulnerable residents age 65 and older,” says EPI.
President-elect Biden and Georgia’s two Democratic Senate candidates recognize that seniors are in a serious financial vise. They want to expand Social Security and Medicare benefits to reflect the realities of growing old in American today. But conservatives insist that both programs must be “reformed” – which really means cut and privatized. Republicans even hinted that seniors’ earned benefits should be reduced to help pay for the Trump/GOP tax cuts of 2017, which inordinately benefited the wealthy and big, profitable corporations.
Incumbent GOP Senator David Perdue pays lip service to protecting Social Security, but has suggested that benefits for future retirees may have to be cut. “Their deal is going to have to be different,” he said. He also has said that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid should no longer be protected as mandatory spending programs. For her part, Senator Kelly Loeffler endorsed President Trump’s reckless payroll tax deferral of last August, which reduced the flow of revenue into Social Security and will force cash-strapped workers to repay those funds in early 2021.
The Democratic candidates believe otherwise. Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff have pledged to protect seniors’ earned benefits from cuts. “We’ve seen those in Washington willing to give trillion-dollar tax cuts to their corporate friends while sacrificing the future of Medicare and Social Security in the process. I’ll stand up to that,” says Rev. Warnock.
“These are earned benefits that Americans have paid into over their entire lives,” says Ossoff. “I will oppose efforts to cut these vital… benefits that so many of our seniors depend upon. And I’ll work to strengthen and protect those benefits.”
Warnock and Ossoff have backed up their statements by supporting policies that will boost seniors’ financial and health security. Both Democratic candidates want to see Social Security and Medicare expanded. Both believe that seniors should not be forced to choose between prescription drugs and groceries – or compelled to cut pills in half to try to ration medications. They know that the best way to relieve the pain of soaring drug prices is to allow Medicare to negotiate costs with Big Pharma.
Seniors have suffered enough during the pandemic. They need champions in the U.S. Senate like Rev. Warnock and Jon Ossoff. If both candidates win, there is a far greater chance that the improvements older Georgians badly need will become law: increased Social Security benefits and cost-of-living adjustments, expanded Medicare benefits, a strengthened Affordable Care Act, and lower prescription drug prices. Georgians are uniquely positioned to make a real change. For the sake of current and future seniors throughout the state, let’s hope that they do.