Washington, D.C.- House Democratic Whip Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Congressman Robert Matsui (D-CA), Ranking Member of the Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee, held a press conference this afternoon to urge Congress to improve Social Security benefits for elderly widows. The following is a statement by Congresswoman Pelosi:
Social Security is one of America's proudest achievements in social policy. No other program has brought so many people out of poverty, enabling millions to live with dignity. For millions of senior citizens, it is a lifeline. Unfortunately, that lifeline is severed for many when a spouse passes away.
Today the House is scheduled to take up H.R. 4069, the Social Security Benefits Enhancement Act of 2002. While this bill takes a few small steps to improve benefits for widows, it still leaves millions behind. We believe we can and should do more to provide real help to the millions of widows who are the most vulnerable of all Social Security beneficiaries.
Congressman Matsui has introduced legislation that comprehensively addresses this need. H.R. 4671, the Social Security Widows Benefit Guarantee Act of 2002, would expand benefits for 5 million widows and create a new widows guarantee. Spouses would be guaranteed a benefit equal to 75 percent of the combined benefits the couple had been receiving prior to the death of one spouse.
However, the bulk of the bill is not being considered on the floor today because Republican leadership did not follow the regular committee process. As a result, Democrats had no opportunity to strengthen the provisions of this legislation.
Given that the Republican budget spends $1 trillion of the Social Security surplus over the next five years, the small steps forward being proposed today are even less adequate. Both parties promised that protecting Social Security would be the top priority, but the Republicans broke that promise. Worst of all, their plan to privatize Social Security would cost another $1 trillion over the next decade.
Democrats have asked repeatedly for the opportunity to debate the Republican
This debate, like all debates on Social Security, has a disproportionate impact on women, who live six to eight years longer than men on average, and constitute 60 percent of Social Security recipients.
Women continue to earn less on average than men, and are less likely to have an employer-sponsored pension plan. Thus, the benefit structure of Social Security program, which partially corrects disparities in income, is particularly important for women. Women are also more likely to work part-time and take time out of the workforce -- 14 years on average -- to raise their children and to care for ailing parents or spouses. As a result, they have less time to save for retirement.
Social Security must be protected for the elderly women who rely on it for their financial survival. The concerns of women must be a priority in the ongoing debate about how to preserve Social Security. The looming retirement of the Baby Boom generation means that we cannot irresponsibly push this issue aside for another day.
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