As I sit and ponder my experience this summer working with Virginia Organizing, I can’t help but remember the many community members that I’ve spoken to at the presentations my partner and I have done in the Richmond area. Their poignant stories will remain with me and they have made this work all the more meaningful for me. I have spoken to countless individuals who depend on Social Security either because they are retired, disabled, were a survivor of a worker who has died, or dependent children of a beneficiary. Each of them has their own story to tell and it’s made me truly understand the reality of this issue.
It is our responsibility, as a country, to keep our promises to our people. Social Security provides a source of safety net income for 53 million people each month. That is a lot of Americans who depend on Social Security as a form of income. Two out of three beneficiaries get more than half of their income from Social Security. One-third depend on the program for all or nearly all of their income.
One particular woman that I spoke to at a public education forum we held at the library in Hopewell told me her story as her eyes welled up with tears. She received Social Security as a child survivor, a dependent child. Her father had passed away when she was young and Social Security became her lifeline all through her childhood and adolescence. Unfortunately, history repeated itself and her son also lost his father at a young age, and Social Security also became a lifeline for her son. In our presentation we talked about some of the ways we believe Social Security should be improved. One of those improvements was restoring the survivor benefits for children aged 19-22. She thanked us for paying attention to that critical issue. Her son has now aged out of receiving his survivor benefits. He is 19 and is going to Virginia State University and attempting to navigate the next years of his life without the financial support his father would’ve provided him. It’s critical that Social Security provide that financial support to child survivors age 19-22. Social Security’s modest benefits lift 20 million Americans out of poverty. And it costs less than a penny out of every dollar to run the program.
With tears welled up in her eyes, she conveyed an important message to me: Social Security benefits are already so modest. The average amount from Social Security for a child survivor is about $13,000 a year, which is embarrassingly lower than what other wealthy countries provide in benefits. Many improvements need to be made in order to best protect Social Security beneficiaries.
Instead of working to protect Social Security, our politicians are talking about cutting American’s safety net and distracting the country from the real issues. We cannot let this happen. We need our politicians to know how critical Social Security is for every one of the 53 million Americans receiving a check each month. I know this because I have yet to hear any of our community members say, “yes, go ahead and cut my benefits”. On the contrary, our community members are videoing their thoughts, signing action cards that say, “please protect my Social Security!” They are taking pictures to show Washington that they need to strengthen, not cut, Social Security!
I’m so grateful that I can be a part of this movement, and learn so much about my fellow citizens. It is truly fortifying my passion for protecting Social Security and advocating that we scrap the cap!
Vanessa Durrant is an intern with the Virginia Organizing Social Security summer program. This summer in the Richmond area, you can find Vanessa giving daily presentations on the future of Social Security.