AARP Eye Center
Bob Busch readily admits he could survive without Social Security. Between his Air Force pension and savings, he has enough to get by. But as a certified volunteer AARP tax aide, he has helped hundreds of Floridians file their income taxes and knows that’s not the case for everyone.
“There are many, many people across our state for whom social security is the predominant income and for some people the only income,” says Busch, 75, a retired Air Force colonel who lives in the small Manatee County community of Parrish. “I saw so many people who just live on social security. They’re living on the poverty level. Some people won’t be able to afford to eat.”
That’s why he is joining AARP’s campaign to protect and preserve Social Security.
Nearly 5 million Floridians, or more than 20 %, receive Social Security benefits, and the state’s 3.6 million retired workers account for three-fourths of all Social Security beneficiaries in the state.
Those payments arrive without fail every month, but if elected officials in Washington, D.C., don’t take action, those monthly payments could be cut by 20 % just to keep the program going. That’s an average cut of $4,000 a year.
“I can exist without social security, but as far as I’m concerned, Social Security is not an entitlement,” Busch says. “I earned it. It’s mine.”
It’s estimated that within 10 years, if Congress doesn’t act, Social Security will not have sufficient funds to continue payments at their current levels. So far, the politicians are saying all the right things but not doing anything.
AARP is hoping to change that. As AARP Florida State Director Jeff Johnson says, “It's your money, not a piggy bank for politicians.”
Thayra Hausheer is an AARP volunteer in Miami who knows the reality of Social Security from the inside. Now retired at age 61, she worked for Social Security for 22 years, helping people apply for benefits. Although she has not started collecting Social Security benefits, she wants to make sure it survives–and not just for her.
“It is very important,” she says. “They need to do everything possible to ensure that Social Security is still strong. I know it’s difficult, but something needs to be done.”
Hausheer and Busch agree on one solution: increase the amount of income that can be taxed for social security, generating enough revenue to fully fund social security without cutting benefits.
Hausheer opposes another common tactic: raising the age when someone qualifies for full social security, which now ranges between 66 and 67. “It is very easy for somebody who works in an office to say yes I can keep working till 67,” Hausheer says. “What about someone who’s doing a labor-intensive job? Physically they may not be able to continue working until they’re 70. Because minorities make up a disproportionate share of manual laborers, whether in construction or restaurant kitchens, the burden would fall largely on them, she says.
Busch favors a comprehensive approach that could include raising the early retirement age of 62 and full retirement to 70. People are living longer, which makes it harder for Social Security to cover the full benefits, he says.
They both plan to be engaged advocates on the issue. Busch organized a kickoff meeting last month for the local AARP team of advocates. Hausheer plans to talk to members of Congress.
“They’ve got to fix it,” Busch says. “We darn well better take care of the people in our own country, and they’d better do it fast.”