Social Security has been our nation's most successful domestic program, protecting millions of Americans from poverty due to old age, death and disability. Since its inception in 1935, Social Security has guaranteed a life-long, inflation-protected defined benefit that families can rely on. The task before us now is to ensure the long-term health of the Social Security program.
I think it is essential that the Administration and Congress take the necessary steps to secure the solvency of this important program for current and future retirees. As we review the options for strengthening Social Security, it is important that we acknowledge the advantages that are built into the existing system. Social Security benefits are progressive, recognizing that workers with low earnings or women who take time out of the workforce, have little opportunity to save. In addition, Social Security is almost completely universal, offering workers a nearly perfect portable pension. Finally, monthly Social Security benefits are dependable and protected by law.
Recent proposals to move to private accounts would substitute Social Security's long-standing promise of guaranteed, lifetime, inflation-protected benefits for benefits that would be tied to the fluctuations of the stock market. There are several key reasons why replacing Social Security with a privatized system would be harmful for Americans. First, privatization leaves retirees vulnerable to stock market fluctuations or poor individual investment decisions. Second, the current Social Security system is progressive and assists women and families by indexing benefits to those who earn less. Women especially would be disadvantaged by a privatized system because they would have lower annual account deposits and would likely lose the advantage of spousal benefits. Third, fully one-third of payroll taxes are used to cover disabled workers and survivors. It is uncertain how the federal government could afford to pay these benefits if a percentage of the payroll tax is diverted into individual accounts. Finally, the projected cost of changing to a privatized system while continuing to pay current benefits is estimated to be several trillion dollars in just the first decade, an unfunded liability that we can not afford.
As Americans are living longer and the baby boomers approach retirement, there are some very important issues facing American seniors. I have developed a robust and proactive agenda to help address many of the needs of seniors in New York and across the nation.
Senate Special Committee on Aging
The Senate Aging Committee, to which I was appointed in the 109th Congress, has a strong history of calling the Congress' and the nation's attention to issues affecting older Americans. The Committee continually reviews Medicare's performance and also regularly reviews pension coverage and employment opportunities for older Americans. It has conducted oversight of major programs like Social Security and the Older Americans Act and has crusaded against fraud targeting the elderly and Federal programs on which the elderly depend.
Mental Health and Aging
Although most older adults enjoy good mental health, nearly 20 percent of Americans age 55 or older experience a mental disorder. It is anticipated that the number of seniors with mental and behavioral health problems will almost quadruple, from 4 million in 1970 to 15 million in 2030. As a means of addressing mental health issues in seniors, I am a proud sponsor of the Positive Aging Act along with Senator Collins (R-ME) and Representatives Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL). This legislation is designed to make mental health services for older adults an integral part of primary care services in community settings and to extend them to other settings where seniors reside and receive services. The bill would provide competitive grants to interdisciplinary teams of mental health professionals working in collaboration with primary care to identify and treat mental health disorders in seniors.
Caregiving issues touch the lives of families from all socioeconomic, ethnic, and educational backgrounds. Most of us will provide care for a chronically ill, disabled, or aging family member or friend at some point in our lifetime. The role of family caregiver can be personally rewarding, but this labor of love can also result in substantial psychological, physical, and financial hardship. That is why I created the Lifespan Respite Care Act along with Senator John Warner (R-VA). This bill authorizes competitive grants to states to make quality respite care available and accessible to family caregivers, regardless of age or disability. The bill allows grantees to identify, coordinate and build on existing federal, state and community-based respite resources and funding streams. This bill was enacted into law in the 109 th Congress, and I have been working with my colleagues to secure funding for its provisions.
Because many children in our country are being cared for by grandparents and other relatives, I introduced the Kinship Caregiver Support Act with Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) in the 108th Congress. This legislation establishes a Kinship Navigator Program to assists kinship caregivers in navigating their way through existing programs and services; establishes a Kinship Guardianship Assistance Program to provide federal assistance to states for subsidized guardianship programs to better serve the needs of kinship care families; and ensures that relatives are notified when children enter foster care.
Congressional Alzheimer's Task Force
The number of people with Alzheimer's disease has doubled since 1980 and currently 4.5 million people suffer from the disease. In New York State alone, there are almost half a million individuals with Alzheimer's Disease that is robbing millions of Americans of their most precious memories. I am proud to co-chair this bipartisan task force with Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) and Representatives Edward Markey (D-MA) and Christopher Smith (R-NJ) which educates Congress and the public about the disease, encourages increased research funding, and fosters bipartisan discussion regarding public policies to assist individuals with Alzheimer's Disease and their families.