Proposed cuts to Social Security and Medicare would do more harm in Georgia than most other states. Nearly 54 percent of older Georgians struggle to pay for basic necessities, according to a new report by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI). Only two states – California and Hawaii – and the District of Columbia have a greater proportion of economically vulnerable residents age 65 and older.
The EPI report reminds us that the majority of Georgia’s seniors have a hard time making ends meet and rely heavily on programs like Social Security and Medicare to lead productive lives with their families and friends. Georgia policymakers should protect these vital services from cuts that would decrease the quality of life for our seniors.
Georgia seniors are considered economically vulnerable in the EPI study if their income is less than roughly $21,600 – $27,200 per year. These seniors are especially sensitive to changes in healthcare costs and programs like Social Security and Medicare.
Georgia’s high proportion of economically vulnerable seniors is driven in part by their below-average household income compared to seniors in other states. Even more worrisome is the 11 percent of Georgia seniors who live in poverty, a rate worse than 41 other states from 2009 – 2011.
Georgians rely heavily on Social Security. About 92 percent of Georgians age 65 and over collect Social Security. About 54 percent of Georgians age 65 have no dedicated retirement income from accounts like an employer pension or IRA. The vast majority of Georgia seniors – nearly 900,000 – also rely on Medicare for at least some of their healthcare needs.
These realities show how proposals to cut Social Security and Medicare would likely make even more Georgia seniors struggle to make ends meet. Under a plan proposed by U.S. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, Medicare’s guarantee of health coverage would be replaced with a flat premium-support payment, or voucher, that seniors would use to purchase either private health insurance or a form of traditional Medicare. This plan would increase seniors’ out-of-pocket healthcare costs over time, pushing almost 3.5 million more into economic vulnerability nationwide, according to the EPI.
President Obama has proposed cutting the annual cost-of-living adjustment [COLA] to Social Security benefits by linking it to a measure of inflation – the “chained” consumer price index — that increases more slowly than the current measure, meaning that COLAs will be lower in future years. That would also make more seniors economically vulnerable: EPI estimates that under the president’s proposal, about 132,000 people nationwide aged 70 to 75 would find themselves struggling to pay for basic necessities.