Candidates vying for the 9th Congressional District seat on Nov. 6 shared different views Tuesday on the future of Social Security and Medicare with a crowd of senior citizens at The Moorings of Arlington Heights retirement community.
Incumbent Jan Schakowsky reassured seniors those entitlement programs are solvent and will be there for them and future generations to rely on with minor changes, while Republican challenger Timothy Wolfe said the programs are running in the red and called for limiting benefits.
Social Security was established in 1933 as a supplemental program. People are required to pay into Social Security on their first $110,000 in wages. Earnings above that level are exempt.
"Social Security has been a real bedrock of support and it's going to be even more important as we go forward," said Schakowsky, 68, an Evanston Democrat and staunch liberal who has represented the 9th District for 14 years. "These defined benefit pension plans are going by the wayside. There aren't that many people who are retiring with a pension, and you saw what happened in the stock market. A lot of people lost their 401(k)s and their retirements."
Schakowsky, who first began advocating for seniors as director of the Illinois State Council of Senior Citizens and later as co-chair of the Seniors Task Force within the Democratic caucus, has now joined their ranks.
She said two-thirds of retirees today rely on Social Security for more than half of their income, and about 25 percent of retirees rely on it for 90 percent or more of their income.
"And it's not a lot of money," she said. "The average or median Social Security benefit is about $17,000 a year."
Schakowsky said Republicans have been talking about cutting Social Security to deal with the federal government's budget deficit, which topped $1 trillion for the fourth straight year. The Social Security Trust Fund has roughly $2.2 trillion in it.
"Social Security didn't contribute one thin dime to the deficit. Social Security shouldn't be called on to alleviate the deficit," she said. "In fact, if we didn't have that Social Security Trust Fund, the deficit would look even over $2 trillion bigger than it looks right now."
Wolfe, 59, of Arlington Heights, a political newcomer who runs his own tax and accounting practice, said Social Security and Medicare should be reined in because the programs have overreached and people have become too reliant on them. And he pointed to the federal government's growing $16 trillion debt.
"We do have to realize that we can't continue to pay more and more and more in benefits, because we are already in debt," Wolfe said
Wolfe said Social Security was never meant to be more than a supplemental program.
"I truly believe we will be moving toward a full socialist country in the next two to four years," Wolfe said. "We're relying on the government for so much. Medicare and Social Security are not solvent. They both run at a negative cash flow. Social Security has had a negative cash flow since 2008."
Wolfe said the $2 trillion in assets that Social Security has is owed to it by the federal government.
"Every day goes by, you are taking more money out of your grandchildren and future generations; you are taking more money out of their pockets," Wolfe said. "The average household is in debt over $500,000. These are facts we can't ignore. We all want to have our benefits ... but we have to look under the surface and we need to fix things."
Schakowsky opposes raising the age of Social Security eligibility from 67 years to 69 years old, which Wolfe supports because he said people are living longer.
The newly drawn 9th District includes parts of Arlington Heights, Des Plaines, Glenview, Mount Prospect, Niles, Palatine, Park Ridge, Prospect Heights, Rolling Meadows, Rosemont and Wheeling, as well as areas east of the Tri-State Tollway.