Social Secuity

Date: March 2, 2005
Location: Washington, DC

SOCIAL SECURITY -- (House of Representatives - March 02, 2005)


Mrs. CAPPS. Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Connecticut for this time that we can share together. Now the gentleman has been joined by two colleagues who have been engaged with some of our leaders in the community.

Women's Policy, Incorporated, is a nonprofit organization that provides resources in the way of information and policy awareness and opportunities for us as women to pool our resources intellectually and our moral courage, if you will, to join with Members of the House.

We were recognized this evening, along with one of our pioneer women, Shirley Chisholm, in memory of her, and also today the knowledge that our former colleague, Tillie Fowler, is no longer with us on Earth, people who have paved the way for us as women Members of Congress to join with our colleagues who are of the other gender, but who together recognize that we are speaking on a social program, Social Security, which has now a 70-year history with us.

I am going to ask the gentleman to yield first to my colleague, the gentlewoman from California (Ms. Solis), who is the newly elected cochair of the Women's Caucus from our side of the aisle, to join with the gentlewoman from Florida (Ms. Ginny Brown-Waite) on the Republican side, to lead our women Members in voicing our concern about women's issues, one of which has got to be Social Security, which impacts women to a greater degree than it does men for the reasons we will state.


Mrs. CAPPS. Thank you. And thank you to my colleague, the gentlewoman from California (Ms. Solis), both of us serving on the Health Subcommittee of Energy and Commerce, where this issue has particular relevance for women and thinking about the health priorities that women always hold dear. We thank our colleague from Ways and Means Committee, the gentleman from Connecticut (Mr. Larson) for organizing this with us to focus on the effect that Social Security has on womens' lives.

I speak from a public health perspective as someone who is engaged with families in our communities on public health and the devastating effect that privatizing Social Security would have on the majority of its women, recipients who are women.

As has been mentioned already, but I do not think we can say it often enough, women on average earn 77 cents to the dollar, to every dollar that a man makes. Yet, they live longer and rely more heavily. This is a demonstrated fact that women rely more heavily on Social Security to support them in their later years.

Women are more likely to interrupt their careers to stay at home to care for children, therefore are significantly less likely than men to receive a pension. And for those women who do receive a pension, their benefits are about one-half of the benefit that men receive.

Fortunately, Social Security is more than just a retirement program. It is a social insurance program structured to help women such as those Ms. Solis and I know very well, to overcome the hurdles that they face after raising families, caring for their parents, working, but not as much as men do, most likely because they have interrupted their careers, then to face widowhood. And I am a widow. I know very well some of the challenges that widows face, to overcome the hurdles of older years.

For example, lower earning workers earn higher benefits relative to what they have paid into Social Security taxes. Social Security also has spousal benefits. For example, a wife gets half of her husband's benefit at age 65 and the full benefit should he die before her as is often the case. But oftentimes this is the sole life support for such a woman in her older years.

Social Security also has survivor benefits that help families when the primary owner has died prematurely. Sometimes and often that primary worker is a man, is the husband, and the provider for the family. So that young widow who is raising now by herself her children and is engaged in all of the other responsibilities that she has, now she is left to live on the Social Security benefit provided her as a survivor. In these cases, benefits are paid to the surviving spouse and dependent children. These are all critically important benefits, important to millions of women and these are all benefits which are at risk of being lost in a privatized system. And I will yield back now for further comment from my colleague from California (Ms. Solis).


Mrs. CAPPS. If my colleague would yield, thank you. Your numbers and your graph, the pie chart are graphic and significant, and I would like to put a face on that so that I can give you an example from one of the non retirees that I met this past week in my district who are one of the one-third of the Social Security benefits who are not seniors.

Last week, I held discussions with my constituents to hear their thoughts on the President's plan to privatize Social Security. I heard from many women, several in very different circumstances, yet each of them depending on Social Security in order to make ends meet in their lives.

I heard for example from a 54-year old woman from San Luis Obispo County in California who receives Social Security disability payments due to a work-related injury which occurred 8 years ago. At that time, she earned a considerable salary and she and her husband had invested 15 percent of their income to save for retirement. One could point to them as a model for the kind of American family that we like to hold up as an example of people who work hard, earn a good salary, and then are also saving for retirement.

However, an injury prevented her from returning to work so that she and her husband subsequently divorced and her investments that she had carefully set aside plummeted during the market turndown a few years ago. And here she was, ready, she said, to be turned out on to the street after living what she called an exemplary life. As a divorcee with a chronic injury, she is now forced to rely on disability payments. She said to the group, she said, I never thought I would be in the position where that Wednesday of every month that that check comes is like a birthday, it is a big celebration in my life to know that that Social Security check is there for me. She said I never even dreamed about how I would be dependent on this.

And these are the disability payments she and her young daughter now are receiving that are the essential platform for how she is able to live. Though she does gets some income from disability insurance, these payments, these disability payments will end when she turns 65. And when she turns 65, that is just 10 years in the future for her, she is going to have to further rely on Social Security because the majority of her retirement investments were lost in the unstable markets, and that is why she knows very well how important keeping Social Security, that covenant, that trust between generations, because of what the difference is that it has meant in her life. It is designed to be the one thing that is not a risk in the inevitable ups and downs of the market of the stock market.

We cannot afford to jeopardize this critical safety net. Too many of our fellow citizens rely upon it. So we must get the word out that our constituents are telling us and not be fooled by the rhetoric of an administration which is really seeking to gut Social Security.
Social Security, as we know it, has been the cornerstone of American life for the past 70 years. And I believe that my children, daughters and sons, and my grandchildren should be able to enjoy that which we believe in so much. And I know that my colleague has some concluding remarks as well.


Mrs. CAPPS. I think the gentlewoman is right, that this is a message that we are echoing here on the floor of the House, that we have been hearing from our constituents. Their voices need to be heard as we debate one of most, if not the most important program that we have as a country determined is important within our values framework, what we believe in, that it is to be an American, that we are going to look out for those who are elders and those who are frail and have disabilities, widows and orphans living among us. There are lots of scripture texts that reinforce the importance of doing this. So we will use the opportunity that we have for Special Orders to do this. And I believe we now will yield back any remainder of the time that we might have.