As we begin Older Americans Month, here are thoughts from WOW's Director of National Economic Security Programs on what Congress can do to ensure the economic security of elders.
In the face of today’s high and rising living costs, there must be a continuum of access to programs that help elders when their incomes fall short of the basic costs of living. Expanded access to programs will require changes, outreach, and funding—at both the federal and state levels—to ensure that elders maintain a roof over their heads, food on their table, and prescriptions needed to manage health conditions as they age. To ensure economic security for all elders, advocates, policymakers and caregivers must:
1. Defend Retirement Income: Erosion of the progress that has been made on behalf of elder economic security must be reversed by supporting and strengthening Social Security, expanding (or providing) worker savings opportunities such as defined contribution and benefits plans, and resisting the temptation to again balance budgets on the backs of seniors by freezing the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) annual cost of living adjustment (COLA) and cutting Medicaid.
2. Support housing trust funds, affordable housing development, housing assistance and homeowner tax exemptions for elders struggling to make ends meet.
3. Adjust unreasonably low income and asset limits among public support programs including SSI. Average Social Security incomes and average retirement incomes often exceed eligibility limits, but leave single elders well short of the income needs indicated by their local Indexes.
4. Promote equitable and rational policy by using the Elder Economic Security Standard Index (the Index) in evaluating existing policies and developing new policies for older adults. The Index is a realistic, geography-based measure of need that can be used to guide policies and programs, and to determine more realistic income eligibility guidelines and funding levels for critical public supports. The Index also provides a tool to help direct service providers benchmark an elder’s movement toward economic security.