That was the message of concern brought to Toledo August 29, 2011 by LeRoy Aragón, a Grassroots Consultant for the Washington, D.C.-based National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM.)
Although it was a non-partisan presentation, Aragón and Sam Burnett, the Toledo-based State Advocate Representative of the NCPSSM, made it clear that vigilance is needed to protect the 55-million people who depend upon Social Security and receive checks against the onslaught of Tea Party supporters seeking to emasculate and erode the program.
An attentive audience of 50 attended the bilingual (English and Spanish) presentation at the Mayores Senior Center, Toledo, sponsored by the Center in cooperation with SS Peter & Paul Church, the Neighborhood Health Association, and NCPSSM.
Father Juan Molina of SS Peter & Paul delivered the invocation. Among those in the audience were: Betty Rios, Community Outreach Coordinator for Lucas County Job and Family Services, Lourdes Santiago, former Toledo Councilmember and now a judicial candidate for election to Toledo Municipal Court, and Cesario Duran, longtime community activist for the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC).
Introduced during the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt as part of the New Deal in 1937, Social Security has been a favorite target of right-wingers seeking to dismantle the program ever since its inception. But the threats and proposals to gut the program and its safety-nets have never been as pronounced or dangerous as they are today.
As Aragón stressed, if the program is changed, it will have a major effect upon Latinos.
Certainly any change made will affect many people. Consider these figures:
· Seventy-five percent of the 55 million recipients of Social Security depend upon it for at least one-half of their income.
· For one-third of those 55 million US-Americans, Social Security is their only income in retirement.
Any change made in Social Security will have a major impact upon the lives of these US-Americans.
One of the myths being propagated by Tea Party reactionaries is that Social Security is “running out of money”—this is a fabrication. Aragón, a native of New Mexico, flatly stated “Social Security is not in any kind of financial crisis. The program is not running out of money. It has $2.6 trillion in its fund, and by 2023 they are projecting that amount will rise to $4.3 trillion.
“Why is it going up? Because it earns interest when it is invested in Treasury Bonds, which pay four to six percent interest,” explained Aragón.
Citing the last trustee’s report issued by the Social Security Administration (SSA), Aragón said the non-profit agency earned $112 million in interest, all of which was plowed back into the SSA.
However, although Social Security is well-funded, sometime in the future, Aragón said it could be 2036, 2042 or 2052 when those accumulated funds will be gone because they will have been used to pay benefits.
171 million US-American workers currently pay into the program through their FICA taxes which pays for 78 percent of Social Security’s obligations. But the administration is concerned about the 22 percent shortfall in thirty years. That’s why the most solid proposals to remedy the impending situation revolve around raising the amount of money paid into FICA.
Currently, those who earn more than $106,800 stop making FICA payments. Aragón pointed out the necessity for raising that ceiling so that everyone would pay their full share into the program. Only 80 percent of wage earners now pay into Social Security, but if it were increased to 90 percent, it would alleviate many future problems.
“Raising that ceiling would be one of the toughest things we can do because no one wants to pay more taxes,” said Aragón.
But Teapublicans also have another bad idea up their sleeves – privatizing Social Security. That means moving money from Social Security and putting it into the private sector and private business. And as Aragón was quick to remind the audience, “The worst case scenario is putting it into the stock market. That’s a risky thing to do. You might earn more but you might lose it too.”
He underscored that point by pointing out the vast number of US-Americans who saw their “401(k), pension or IRA go down the drain” during Wall Street’s recent turmoil.
“Raising money on the stock market is like putting it into a slot machine. It can be very costly. We’ve seen what happened in other parts of the world like Chile, Argentina, Mexico, and Great Britain when they privatized their programs. Under privatization programs such as these, the cost for an administrator averages 25 to 30 percent. Using FICA and our system, our total cost for administration is only one percent,” said Aragón.
Also, remember the Wall Street Disaster of 2008, which led to the current Great Recession.
Impact on Latinos
However, Aragón made some of his strongest points when he discussed how Social Security impacts the Latino community in the United States.
“Latinos depend upon Social Security to a larger degree than the general population. That’s because they have traditionally earned less and do not have pensions, mainly because so many Latinos have jobs involving manual labor.
“Seventy-four percent of Latinos have Social Security as half of their retirement income. And for 44 percent of Latinos, Social Security is the only income they have,” Aragón told the audience.
“Latinos generally, as other minority groups, have a higher instance of disability. That’s because they are not working in air conditioned offices. They are vulnerable to many chronic illnesses which result in disabilities such as diabetes and heart problems. And conversely live longer and tend to have bigger families. Whereas the average for white families is 2.3 individuals, for Latinos it is four. That makes the family aspect of Social Security more important,” said Aragón.
Another Teapublican myth debunked by Aragón was that undocumented immigrants in the United States were a drain on Social Security. This is false—facts show that they contribute more than 9-billion dollars to Social Security every year. However, Aragón stated that the contributions paid to Social Security by undocumented workers can be claimed by them once they certify that they have become legal residents.
Some audience members had questions regarding eligibility for receiving disability payments as well as survivor benefits. Others were concerned about the changes in age to qualify for Social Security benefits when an individual reaches retirement age.
The answers to those questions can be found by visiting www.socialsecurity.gov