It’s been nearly 80 years since President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act to protect a generation of Americans whose hard work and savings were wiped out during the Great Depression. This compact gave millions the stability and financial security needed to avoid poverty in retirement.
Since that historic day 79 years ago, the Social Security program has grown into one of the most successful and popular federal programs in our history. It has decreased poverty in seniors by drastic levels, grown to cover over 1 million Virginians, and secured the stable, guaranteed benefits that are the backbone of financial planning for millions of Americans.
Of course, Social Security’s benefits extend far beyond seniors. For disabled Americans and children who have lost a parent it has meant the difference between crippling poverty and a chance to succeed. The benefits these 58 million Americans receive inject nearly $775 billion into states and local economies each year.
Social Security’s most enduring impact will be the foundation it established in order to grow the rest of our social safety net. Beginning in the 1950’s, disability insurance protection was available for the first time. Then, President Johnson added Medicare in the 1960’s, ensuring healthcare security for millions of seniors. In 1983, Democrats working with President Reagan came up with a plan that kept Social Security in place for generations to come. With the signing of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, President Obama patched the largest hole in our safety net that had bankrupted many by forcing millions to go without reasonably priced healthcare for years.
Sadly, despite this progress the Republicans have made it their goal to erode this social contract for years. It began in earnest with President Bush’s unsuccessful plan to privatize Social Security. Not only would Bush’s proposal have cut monthly payments to needy Americans by hundreds of dollars a month, it would have erased the financial security of millions during the economic collapse in 2007 had it been in place. In the past four years, House Republicans have voted over 50 times to repeal or defund the Affordable Care Act and 24 states have refused to expand Medicaid benefits to the neediest in their communities.
But it doesn’t stop there. Year after year Republicans propose budgets that gut our most critical social programs. On the chopping block are programs that provide food for hungry mothers and children, unemployment insurance for millions laid off as a result of the recession, and SNAP benefits that have kept millions out of poverty.
Democrats are ready and willing to work with Republicans to find a durable solution to strengthening Social Security for generations to come. For 79 years this program has delivered on its commitment to working women and men. It’s time Republicans gave up their partisan crusade against the safety net and joined us in committing to renew and strengthen this program for future Americans.