Today, the Social Security Trustees release their annual report on the financial health of our most important retirement plan. Social Security, one of America's proudest achievements in social policy, is a veritable lifeline for millions of senior citizens. No other program has brought so many people out of poverty, enabling millions to live with dignity. Since entering Congress in 1987, I have tenaciously placed the preservation of Social Security and the protection of adequate cost-of-living increases at the top of my list of priorities.
Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Republican budget plan for fiscal year 2000. I refused to support the Republican budget because it undermines the foundations of Social Security, Medicare, and other essential programs. In short, it fails to reserve the current surplus for both Social Security and Medicare. It offers no real protection for the program, and allows Social Security funds to be used to privatize the system and thereby jeopardize the guaranteed benefits that Americans rely upon. The Republican budget also fails extend the life of Social Security by even one day.
I am particularly concerned about the impact that changes in Social Security could have on women. Women depend on Social Security disproportionately because many do not receive private pensions -- only 38% of women receive employer-based pension benefits, compared with 57% of men. Women also receive only 75% of the earnings of men and are far more likely to work part time. Thus, the benefit structure of Social Security, which partially corrects disparities in income, is particularly important for women. In 1994, some 40% of unmarried women 65 and older who received Social Security depended on it for at least 90% of their income; more than one fifth had no other income.
While shoring up the financial health of Social Security, we must always keep the welfare of women foremost in our minds. Privatization of Social Security would shatter the progressive nature of the system and perpetuate the inequality between retirement benefits for men and women.
I support President Clinton's proposal to dedicate 77% of the budget surplus over the next 15 years to shoring up the Social Security and Medicare Trust Funds. Some adjustments to Social Security may be needed to provide benefits for the aging population, but there is nothing to suggest that radical changes are necessary. We must never forget the enormous success and ongoing importance of Social Security in the lives of all Americans.
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