Several leading Latino advocacy and labor organizations, representing more than 50 million people nationwide, are joining forces to spread the word about the importance of protecting Social Security. The coalition, Latinos for a Secure Retirement, was formed in response to recent threats to cut Social Security benefits or raising the retirement age.
"This is a critically important issue, particularly for the Latino community," said Lillian Rodriguez Lopez, president of the Hispanic Federation, during a Jan. 19th press call. "We see very clearly the impact of the current economic situation and how it's effecting Latinos and really all Americans," she said.
On top of the foreclosure crisis, Latinos have lost billions of dollars in retirement incomes, notes Rodriguez Lopez. "Making cuts or raising the retirement age could put current and future generations into horrible poverty and that's just not acceptable," she said.
Retiring Latinos have a lot to lose, said Hector Sanchez, executive director of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, also on the conference. "Without Social Security benefits the poverty rate among Latino elderly will triple," he said. "Any cuts made to Social Security will be an attack on the Latino community and all working people."
Speakers on the call reiterated that Social Security, which for most people is already a very modest benefit, has never contributed to the federal deficit.
"We're ready to fight and make sure that no benefits are cut," said Jeff Cruz, executive director of the newly formed coalition, Latinos for a Secure Retirement. He said they look forward to building a larger coalition with allies in the labor movement, civil rights and retirement groups. A series of bilingual town halls nationwide are also being organized. The challenge now is to follow closely what happens in Congress and to mobilize people, urging them to let their lawmakers know how important protecting Social Security is, he said.
Brent Wilkes, executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens said allowing a path toward legalization for immigrants would also increase Social Security revenues.
The coalition, Latinos for a Secure Retirement, is made up of several prominent Latino advocacy groups that recently launched their plan, "Protecting Social Security: A Blueprint for Strengthening Social Security for All Americans."
Caring for parents, spouses and children are core Latino family values and exemplified by Social Security, note the plans authors.
Since 1935, Social Security has provided a vital safety net for millions of Americans who cannot work because of age or disability. The benefits are far from generous: the average alottment for seniors is just $14,040 yearly and even lower for Latino seniors. Yet these benefits represent nearly all the income for almost half of Latino seniors.
Speakers on the call said they are concerned about some of the misperceptions being perpetuated about Social Security, which, contrary to what the Republican Party says, has not contributed to our deficit problem and is not in any crisis. It is fully funded through 2037 and, even after that, will still be able to pay out about 76 percent of promised benefits - even if no changes to the program are made.
The plan announced at the news conference calls for the following:
- Raise the cap gradually over 10 years to cover 90 percent of earnings
- Diversify trust fund investments
- Cover all new local and state government employees
- Treat all salary reduction plans like 401(k)s
- Insure college and vocational students of deceased or disabled parents
- Raise the income floor for vulnerable elders
- Increase legal immigration
- Automatic triggers to account for uncertainty of 75-year projections
These are based on several core principles, such as making sure Social Security retain its function as a social insurance program. It must also remain independent and apart from the general budget.
Surveys show that Americans don't mind paying for Social security because they understand its value for themselves, their families and millions of other Americans who depend on the benefits. The support for Social Security cuts across party lines - fully 93 percent of Democrats, 85 percent of independents and 81 percent of Republicans agree.
The Protecting Social Security plan reflects the core values of the American people and will strengthen benefits, invest in America's future, and increase the financial solvency of the system, speakers on the call said.