Seniors are struggling.
Health care and energy costs keep rising, but seniors on Social Security have not received a cost-of-living adjustment - or COLA - for more than two years. That leaves seniors on fixed incomes with fewer resources to afford escalating costs and make ends meet.
During my recent visit to Washington County's Glenwood Retirement Community, I met with senior citizens who have worked all of their lives to be able to retire with dignity. They never asked for a handout. They never expected a free pass. They worked diligently because, in America, workers are the backbone of our economic strength.
In America, employees who work hard and play by the rules believe that their elected officials should do the same.
That's why I introduced legislation to provide parity between senior citizens and members of Congress. The Shared Retirement Sacrifice Act of 2011 would require elected officials to walk in the same shoes as working Americans.
If a steelworker has to wait until she is 66 years old to receive retirement benefits, then so should members of Congress - especially those who want to increase the retirement eligibility age.
What would a higher eligibility age mean for workers who stand for a living or work on a shop floor?
Social Security is not an entitlement. American seniors have earned the right to live out their twilight years without fear of becoming destitute. Social Security has no direct relation to the federal deficit, but there is a direct correlation between Social Security and improved quality of life for Americans.
Ohioans on Social Security aren't getting rich. The median benefit received by a retired worker is about $14,400 annually. According to Social Security Works, almost two out of three seniors rely on Social Security for half or more of their income. ProgressOhio recently reported that 556,000 Ohioans aged 65 and older are lifted out of poverty as a result of Social Security benefits.
We need to ensure that Social Security meets the needs of Ohio seniors. Right now, the Social Security COLA is determined by a formula that is built into federal law, and it needs to change. The formula says that seniors shouldn't get a cost-of-living adjustment because there hasn't been inflation nationwide. But that doesn't mean that many of seniors' most common household costs - like prescription drugs - are remaining stagnant. That's why I plan to introduce legislation to revise the flawed formula that determines the annual Social Security cost of living adjustment (COLA) benefits so that it better reflects the expenses retirees typically face.
Retirees in Marietta should know that if some Washington politicians had their way, nearly two million Ohio seniors receiving Medicare benefits would soon face higher costs for prescription drugs, annual wellness visits, and preventive care.
The new health law has already provided nearly 150,000 Ohio seniors with rebate checks to help with their out-of-pocket prescription drug costs. It also eliminated copayments for a host of preventive services, like cancer screenings, and ensured all seniors have access to free annual check-ups. But some Washington politicians would like to roll this all back.
That's why I recently led a group of 50 senators in a letter to President Obama expressing our opposition to turning Medicare into a voucher program. We shouldn't end Medicare as we know it to finance tax breaks for millionaires. Instead of reducing Medicare benefits for seniors, let's cut Medicare costs by improving access to generic drugs and ensuring that the Secretary of Health and Human Services can negotiate price discounts on prescription drugs for Medicare seniors - just like the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
While deficit reduction is important, we cannot afford to balance the budget on the backs of seniors. Instead, let's end tax breaks for corporations that ship jobs overseas and stop tax giveaways to Wall Street hedge fund managers making billions each year.
Dismantling Medicare and Social Security to help finance extra tax cuts for wealthy Americans could dismantle the American way of life many seniors worked hard to achieve. Difficulties and challenges abound, but saddling seniors with the heaviest burdens isn't a solution. How do we preserve a decent quality of life for Americans? Protecting Social Security and Medicare is the right answer, right now.
Sherrod Brown represents Ohio in the United States Senate.