By Dawn Neuses
U.S. Rep Phil Hare, D-Rock Island, supports raising the income cap on Social Security payroll taxes as a way to sustain the system and continue to provide benefits.
Rep. Hare was at the RockIsland County Senior Center Thursday to mark the 75th anniversary of Social Security. He said when President Roosevelt signed it into law on Aug. 14, 1935, half of all elderly Americans lived in poverty.
"Social Security was, according to Roosevelt, intended to take care of the human needs by guaranteeing a reliable income for American seniors," he said.
The current Social Security system can provide benefits through 2037, Rep. Hare said, adding that he was told by social security employees if everyone paid Social Security payroll taxes on what they earned, it would sustain the system for another 90 years.
Rep. Hare said he doesn't believe it's fair that workers stop paying Social Security payroll taxes after making $106,000. "I believe you should pay on what you earn."
Mo Hart, Project Now executive director, asked Rep. Hare how much support that idea has in Washington.
"Not so much on the other side, as they consider this a tax increase," Rep. Hare said. "I consider it a tax fairness issue. There is a lot of support on our side."
John D. Lowery, director of senior services at the senior center, asked the congressman what he saw as the chance for him, in 20 years, to get full Social Security.
"I think they are very good," Rep. Hare said. "First of all, it is 2010, and we are good for another 27 years if we do nothing.
"My hope is long before that we bring some common sense into this and say 'look, if we aren't going to tax you at whatever you make, then surely we could have a scale that would go up and raise the $106,000 to say you have to make $150,000 or $175,000 before you can stop paying social security taxes.' "
Rep. Hare opposes the Republican plan to privatize Social Security, opposes raising the retirement age to 70, cutting benefits and increasing payroll taxes on middle-income people.
He said 2010 was the first year in 35 that 41 million Americans did not receive a cost of living adjustment, or COLA, on their social security benefits.
"In these challenging economic times, this news is a shock to all of us, and I share your disappointment and anger," he said, adding he supported giving seniors a one-time $250 check equivalent to a 2 percent increase in benefits for the average recipient.
"Seniors deserve a COLA in 2011 plain and simple," he said.
Rep. Hare is co-sponsoring a bill, The Seniors ProtectionAct of 2010, which would give seniors the one-time payment if no inflation adjustment is announced this fall.