AARP Tour 'You've Earned a Say'
Dakota Digest - 06/27/2012
By Marcus Brooks
AARP is spending its summer touring around the country. The local chapter in South Dakota is also visiting every county in the state. The purpose of the tour is to give AARP members a chance to discuss elected officials and also issues like social security and medical benefits.
The AARP tour is called ‘You've Earned a Say'. Recently they visited Freeman and Salem South Dakota.
Officials begin each meeting with a presentation explaining future possibilities of medical and social security benefits for senior citizens.
Sarah Jennings is the state director for AARP. She says the organization feels its members deserve to have their voices heard.
"Well we really have three reasons why we're doing ‘You've earned a Say,' one is to listen. We want to hear what folks across the state of South Dakota think about the future of social security and Medicare but also across the country. We also want to take the conversation out of Washington D.C. there's a lot of discussion about these programs because they're so important happening out in Washington and we want to make sure that our folks in Washington are thinking about this as people and families and not about a budget and the third reason people really have to have a way to have their voices heard and we want to help people do that, Jennings said."
The tour began last month and will last all summer. Jennings says seniors share similar concerns regardless of where they live.
" so far we heard three consistent messages the first is people are very concerned that social security and Medicare will not be there for their kids and grandkids. Second theme is a skepticism about Washington and their ability to get things done and the third is really wanting to start talking about options and we've heard some people throwing out things whether we should raise the cap on social security - contribution limit - whether we should raise the retirement age - whether we should talk about means testing, Jennings said."
Gaining the attention of Congress isn't always easy but Jennings says by AARP holding meetings all around the country it has gotten the attention of several U.S. leaders.
"Here in South Dakota we've already had our delegation participating in the tour - we had Senator Johnson at our first event and we've had representatives from other offices either at an event or expressing interest. AARP is our collective voice and our ability too. In South Dakota we're going to every county - New York State is doing every congressional district. Every state has a different way of tackling it but it's all about raising our collective voice, Jennings said."
Residents of Freeman sit in attendance at the town senior center sharing thoughts and asking questions.
Donald Schultz is an AARP member. He says some hard working people are treated unfairly when it comes to social security. Schultz says farmers' wives do not receive a fair share.
"South Dakota is a farming community and a lot of this affects a lot of my relatives and friends - the women did not have jobs off the farm where they worked besides their husbands doing everything that had to be done and when they come to social security they get very little. I know of a lady that passed away not long ago she was eighty four years old and she never had an increase from the time she was 65 to 84 because all of her quota went to the increase of the social security agreement. She never got a dime increase in all that time, Schultz said."
Schultz is also a Korean War Veteran. He says when he visits the VA Hospital in Sioux Falls - he often pays a bill he says Medicare is supposed to take care of.
"They give me this fifty dollar bill every so often and I can't even tell you off hand what they bill me for but anyway it's something that Medicare should be paying or I shouldn't be charged for and I have never gotten a refund, Schultz said."
After comments in Freeman - the tour moves to Salem. The crowd and atmosphere are slightly different as a younger crowd joins in the discussion at the local bowling alley.
The crowd is asked if they are confident Medicare and social security will continue in the future. Theo Clark Jr. is from nearby Parker. He says he's not so sure what the future holds for the benefits.
"One of the things that I've noticed is the amount of retirement concern in my generation - it is not the same as it would be for the generation that preceded me, Clark said."
AARP predicts Medicare won't be able to pay the full amount of hospital costs in twelve years. Rising health care costs along with an increase in participants within the next 17 years are among the challenges Medicare faces. Social Security is also a concern. It's funded mostly by Payroll taxes. It is an important source of income for retired senior citizens. AARP reports Social Security provides ninety percent or more of family income for one fourth of seniors nationwide - and about one fifth of seniors in South Dakota.
Leni Healy (Heal-Lee) is the associate state director of outreach and education for AARP. She says the U.S. government has borrowed money from the Social Security trust fund with intent to pay back the loan with interest. But Clark Jr. says the government should borrow money from somewhere else.
"If your child got into the cookie jar before dinner and you knew that would ruin his dinner and it was a bad thing - you smacked his hand and you told him not to do it again. There'd be some discipline for this they'll be something to say to people hey look this is the trouble that we get into when we do these sorts of things and my concern is if they done it before what's to stop them from doing it again. If we don't say something about it and say leave these funds alone go borrow from something else these are for people who've worked all their lives who paid into that system and it should be reasonable to expect that it will be there to take care of them when they need it, Clark said."
The AARP tour will relate the comments to US leaders. The ‘You've Earned a Say' Tour will continue Throughout South Dakota until August 30th. The last event is at the state fair in Huron. For South Dakota Public Broadcasting, I'm Marcus Brooks
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