By Xochitl Maykovich and Robby Stern
This column was co-written by Xochitl Maykovich, a 25-year-old organizer with Washington Community Action Network and a PSARA member, and Robby Stern, the 71-year-old president of PSARA. Another version of it appeared in The Stand, the online newspaper of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO.
This summer people all over the country will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid and the 80th anniversary of Social Security. The successes of Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare deserve celebration. We owe the millions of people who advocated and fought for these programs the respect and recognition of their sacrifices and struggle. At the same time we owe ourselves and future generations the commitment to build a retirement security movement that demands the expansion of these programs. Growing income inequality is taking its toll on the majority of the US population. Expanding Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security is a significant antidote to this escalating economic disaster.
Can you imagine the United States without Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid?
Even though these three programs are the country’s most successful anti-poverty programs in history, they remain under constant attack from anti-government types, Wall Street, and other corporate interests. Now, especially with a presidential race on the horizon, the growing progressive movement needs to draw a line in the sand: Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid cannot be cut, but instead need to be expanded.
President Lyndon Johnson signed Medicare and Medicaid into law on July 30, 1965. Now Medicare provides coverage to more than 55 million elderly and disabled Americans, and Medicaid covers 44 million low-income adults and children. Medicare and Medicaid help to reduce poverty and health disparities among our most vulnerable communities. In order to further reduce poverty and health disparities, especially as our aging population continues to grow, Medicare and Medicaid must be expanded.
With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid serves as the vehicle for the most significant expansion of health care coverage since 1965. We will advocate for further expansion of Medicaid, including coverage for undocumented residents, and also insist that the program continue to provide comprehensive coverage.
Currently, Medicare fails to cover needed long-term care services. By 2030, one in five people will be over the age of 65, and as our aging population grows, caregiving needs increase. Because many families do not have access to long-term care services, families shoulder the financial cost of caring for their elderly loved ones. Seniors and their families desperately need change in Medicare: seniors and disabled people can no longer wait for long-term care coverage.
Additionally, there is the need for a dental and vision benefit in Medicare coverage. In the 21st Century, it is unacceptable that Medicare not provide coverage for the eyes and teeth when this coverage is so important to our ability to live healthy and dignified lives.
Social Security lifts 22.2 million seniors out of poverty in our country, including 281,000 seniors in Washington alone. Without Social Security, 44.4 percent of elderly Americans would live below the poverty line; but with Social Security, this number drops to 9.1 percent. However, with the growing decline in defined benefit pensions and the inability of working people to save sufficient funds to supplement Social Security benefits, it is essential that we strengthen and expand Social Security, or the problem of senior poverty will grow exponentially over the next twenty years
Social Security is literally a lifeline for millions of people. But right-wing corporate-owned officials attempt to justify their desire to privatize Social Security with the idea that it is going bankrupt. Social Security is not going bankrupt. If nothing were done to expand Social Security, it would pay full benefits through 2035 and then would continue to pay 85 percent of full benefits.
But we will not accept the status quo. We are organizing to strengthen Social Security to address the realities of the 21st century economy and the needs of present and future generations. We will continue to build the movement to scrap the payroll income cap, thereby bringing significantly more revenue into the system. Currently, Social Security is funded through a 6.2 percent payroll tax, but this tax only applies to incomes $118,500 and below.
Millionaires and billionaires are paying a miniscule amount of their income to Social Security. If we Scrap the Cap, Social Security would pay full benefits for many more decades. Additionally, with a slight increase in the payroll tax on the employer and employee sides, we could significantly expand benefits, helping to assure the dream that people can live their senior years with dignity, respect, and economic security.
We will make it clear to elected officials, from state legislators to presidential candidates, that retirement security is crucial to all of us. Organizations throughout the country, from community groups to unions, will come together to celebrate Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
Here in Washington, we will be celebrating these programs at Westlake Plaza on August 8th from 1PM-3p.m. Please join us at this celebration and participate with us in the struggle to make these programs what those who came before us hoped they would become.