Although the White House Conference on Aging is held only once every ten years, Monday’s event was a crucial time to address issues for older Americans, especially as they retire in unprecedented numbers. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Representative John Conyers (D-MI), as well as 72 members of Congress and 2.5 million Americans wrote a letter and petitioned President Obama to expand Social Security as part of his political agenda.
Outside the White House, Representative Conyers and Representative Donna Edwards (D-MD) spoke at the rally, as well as Delegate Joseline Pena-Melnyk, Terry O’Neill from the National Organization for Women, Christian Dorsey from the Economic Policy Institute and others.
“This is not the time to discuss cutting [Social Security], this is the time to discuss expanding it,” Pena-Melnyk said. Popular discussions around Social Security have centered on making cuts to the program in the past, but now, millions of Americans are seeing the relevance and need to expand Social Security for the growing elderly population. Representative Conyers said, “The American people will not tolerate any cuts to our hard earned Social Security benefits.”
Julian Blair of SPACEs also spoke about his tireless efforts to push for social reform as part of the Center for Community Change’s Grassroots Ambassadors program.
“Social Security not only provides a source of income, but it allows us to live with some dignity in our golden age,” he said to the crowd.
Julian, who is retired himself, talked about his family, how Social Security provides for them and how the benefits have not kept pace with increasing costs of living. “The solution to this problem is quite simple,” he said. “The solution is to expand Social Security benefits, which is overwhelmingly supported by the public.”
It’s true that the vast majority of Americans favor Social Security expansion. A 2014 survey quoted in the Congressional letter to President Obama showed that 79 percent of likely voters support increasing Social Security benefits. The support is bipartisan, too: 90 percent of democrats, 73 percent of Independents and 73 percent of Republicans support its expansion.
While the speeches were going on outside the White House, President Obama hinted at his own interest in addressing Social Security inside the conference.
“I think there are creative ways to protect its future solvency but also strengthen retirement security for our most vulnerable neighbors,” he said his speech.
2016 presidential hopefuls are also going to bat for expansion as well. In her economic speech on Monday, Hillary Clinton said that she would “help families look forward to retirement by defending and enhancing Social Security and making it easier to save for the future.”
Policymakers have been in a tug-of-war over Social Security for too long. The clear bipartisan consensus is to expand benefits now, especially in this crucial time for those who are aging. Yesterday’s petition delivery may have only taken an hour, but the growing pressure from grassroots leaders and leaders in Congress could make years’ worth of impact on those who rely on Social Security.
Watch Julian Blair’s full speech here:
Pictured above: Grassroots Ambassador Julian Blair speaking in front of the White House to expand Social Security. Other speakers and members of Social Security Works and the National Organization for Women stand in support behind him.