Issue Position: Seniors
As we transition to an increasingly global economy, many Americans are at risk of being left behind through no fault of their own. Among those most affected by these changes are senior citizens, many of whom are on fixed incomes. We need to modernize our social safety net to help senior citizens meet these new challenges, but we also must preserve those elements, such as Social Security and Medicare, that have enabled us to fulfill our moral commitment to our parents and grandparents.
Social Security is more than just a retirement plan; it is also a program of social insurance. And it has been one of the most successful government programs in our nation's history. Senator Obama has fought to prevent the privatization of Social Security, which provides a vital safety net to tens of millions of seniors and Americans with disabilities.
The U.S. is the largest market for pharmaceuticals in the world, yet our seniors pay the highest prices for brand pharmaceuticals. The Medicare Part D Program was supposed to address this problem but instead created a "doughnut hole" which limits drug benefits for seniors with more than $2,250 in annual costs. (Senator Obama was not in the Senate in 2003 when Congress passed the Part D program but would have opposed it.) For many seniors, this is a particularly devastating example of "bait and switch." A truly meaningful prescription drug program should provide a benefit that seniors can understand and count on, and reduce the cost of these drugs. To help lower the cost of prescription drugs, Senator Obama has supported efforts to allow American seniors to purchase prescription drugs in Canada and bring them back to the U.S. He also has supported giving Medicare the ability to negotiate lower drug prices.
Illinois has a large proportion of aging veterans. Unfortunately, Illinois ranked 50 out of 53 states and territories in disability benefits for at least 20 years. As a result of Senator Obama's involvement, the VA has increased the number of claims reviewers in the Chicago office, providing for a faster processing of claims. The VA has also increased training to ensure more consistent decisions. Senator Obama has worked with Senator Durbin to require the VA to provide veterans in six states, including Illinois, with notification of their rights to appeal any benefit decisions. As a result of these appeals, Illinois veterans are starting to see larger benefit checks.
The Bush Administration's approach to handling veterans' health care ignores the reality of increasing demands on the VA, and the additional burden placed on veterans. The Administration has established a means test for VA health care eligibility, and it has banned hundreds of thousands of veterans - some who make as little as $30,000 a year - from enrolling in the system. These changes affect both older and younger veterans, and Senator Obama has opposed them, fighting instead for greater funding for veterans' health care.
Senator Obama has supported greater funding for the Section 202 senior housing program which provides affordable housing to senior citizens in developments owned by nonprofit organizations. The program enables seniors to live with dignity and self-determination. There are about 286,000 Section 202 units serving very low-income seniors across the country, and an additional 15,800 units serving low and moderate-income seniors. Senator Obama has also worked with Senator Stabenow to increase funding for housing for grandparents who are raising their grandchildren.
Senator Obama has been a strong supporter of greater funds for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which helps senior citizens in many Northern and Midwestern states pay their winter heating bills.
About one in every five low-income senior citizens is at risk of hunger during the year. For that reason, Senator Obama has opposed President Bush's proposal to cut food supports, such as the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, that sustain vulnerable families, children, and senior citizens.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Senator Obama introduced legislation to prevent another tragedy in which the poor and elderly are left behind during a natural disaster or terrorist attack. His proposal, which was included in the port security law signed by President Bush in 2006, requires states and localities to have emergency evacuation plans in place that take into account the special needs of senior citizens.