Amidst Federal and State Budget Crises, are Elderly Safety-Net Programs, Social Security, Safe?

National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, and Social Security

On February 18, 2010, President Barack Obama issued an Executive Order to establish the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (Commission).  The Commission aims to provide recommendations on balancing the federal government’s budget by 2015.  Further, the Commission will recommend action to improve the fiscal outlook of the country in the long-term.  A lot of discussion about the country’s long-term fiscal outlook has centered on entitlement programs, specifically where money coming in to fund programs has fallen below program expenditures.  There has been quite a bit of conversation about the Social Security entitlement program as a possible way to help reign in spending and balance the budget. The Social Security entitlement program in the United States has a long history; President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed it into law in 1935, passing Congress as part of the New Deal.  Social Security is a social insurance program for retired persons, disabled individuals, and individuals who depended on a family worker who has died.  Social Security is a safety net for many Americans, and specifically many older adults. With more than 47 million Americans depending on Social Security income, and over two-thirds of retirees relying on Social Security for the majority of their income, it is imperative we protect and strengthen the Social Security program.  As the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform continues to meet, behind closed doors, advocacy to preserve Social Security must be a priority.

The True Cost of Living for Older Adults, Illinois Perspective

Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW), a non-profit based out of Washington D.C., created the Elder Economic Security Initiative (EESI) several years ago.  EESI approaches building economic security through advocacy, organizing, and research.  A key part of EESI is the Elder Economic Security Standard™ Index, calculating the cost of living for an older adult.  The Illinois state partner for EESI is Health & Medicine Policy Research Group (HMPRG) and detailed information about EESI can be found on the HMPRG website.  In Illinois, and across the country, EESI is revealing that frequently older adults cannot make ends meet based on their income and the cost of living. According to the policy brief, “Elders Living on the Edge: When Meeting Basic Needs Exceeds Available Income in Illinois”, in Illinois 1 out of 5 older adults relies solely on Social Security.  Unfortunately, the average Social Security payment for a single, retired Illinoisan does not cover the cost of living.  Using EESI as a tool, specifically the data of the Elder Economic Security Standard™ Index, Illinoisans can advocate in many ways to protect the economic security of its older adult population.  One way is to advocate for the strengthening and preservation of the Social Security program.  With so many older adults in Illinois relying on Social Security and currently unable to afford the cost of living in the community, any disruption of Social Security benefits would be tragic.

Illinois State Budget, How Does This Affect Seniors?

As Washington D.C. tackles the federal budget, states have the task of managing their own budgets.  Illinois is in a budget crisis, with a deficit of $13 billion, almost half of the state’s general fund revenue.  Attempting to come up with a solution to this deficit has not been easy—state employee pension plans, social service agencies, health care agencies, and the education system have all been threatened by budget cuts.  Illinois’ budget deficit threatens important health and social programs, and is already affecting social service agencies throughout the state.  Particularly concerning to the aging community is the delay in paying social service agencies that provide care for the elderly. Without providing payment to state-funded social service agencies, many older adults will not be able to access the services they need to remain healthy and viable in their communities.  As the Federal Commission researches ways to balance the federal budget and talk of changing Social Security continues, the economic well-being of older adults has never been a more pertinent issue.

What Do You Think? Let Your Voice Be Heard!

WOW is hosting its second annual Blog Day, Wednesday May 26th, 2010: “America’s Budget Matters, So Does Yours.” This blog article is only the beginning to an ongoing discussion of elder economic security, and we want to hear from you:
  • Do you have anything to contribute to this conversation about the federal deficit?
  • About Illinois’ budget deficit?
  • About cuts to social service programs in Illinois?
  • About preserving Social Security?
  • How do potential budget cuts affect you?
Please leave your comments below.  HMPRG is working with WOW to make sure that your voice is heard, that the Federal Commission and the Illinois state government knows that their decisions affect you.  Our country, and our state of Illinois, is in difficult times. Now is not a time to be quiet, but a time to advocate for your right to remain economically secure in your homes and communities as you age. This post was edited by Bridget Murtha. Photo courtesy of Barack Obama on flickr.


  • Alisha

    Preserving Social Security is so important, not only for seniors but also for those that care for them. This ibenefit assists elders to age in place. Additionally, it’s important that enough services are available in the community for seniors who are aging in place and both Social Security and services need to be strengthened to further support elders and their families.

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