Earned a Say? Then speak up

Alaskans consider Social Security a family protection plan, according to AARP.

More and more of the federal benefits are going to children, surviving spouses and disabled workers under the age of 65. AARP research indicates that 36 percent of Social Security beneficiaries in Alaska fit those categories.

Alaskans last year received more than $1 billion in Social Security benefits. AARP hopes those beneficiaries and other Alaskans will join the national debate on Social Security and Medicare.

The organization just kicked off its nationwide “Earned a Say” campaign. It’s asking the public to weigh in on the two programs that seem to have become political footballs in Washington, especially during an election year.

AARP Alaska Media Director Ann Secrest said “Earned a Say” is appropriately named.

“Americans earned a right to have a say about the future of Medicare and Social Security. They’ve paid into these programs throughout their working lives and we feel very strongly that if decisions are being made about these two important programs behind closed doors, then that has to come out from behind closed doors and Americans have a right to have a say about Medicare and Social Security,” Secrest said

The senior citizens’ interest and advocacy group has published various solutions for Social Security and Medicare at Earned A Say website. AARP sought experts, not politicians, to frame the pros and cons of each option.

“There’s no spin, there’s no partisanship. The experts we engaged put it out there on the website for everyone to evaluate for themselves,” Secrest said. “The reason that we did this is we want people to read about the options and then compare it to the candidates who are running for office. Where do they stand? We want people to understand where the candidates stand before they vote this November.”

Ninety percent of Alaskans over the age of 65 received Social Security in 2011, but the total individual annual benefit averaged only $13,500. For low and middle-income Alaskans, the monthly checks accounted for more than half their earnings.

Alaska seniors also rely on Medicare. Nearly 95 percent of those over the age of 65 were enrolled in Medicare in 2011, according to AARP. In comparison, 2010 data indicates about 20 percent of Alaskans ages 50 to 64 had no medical insurance.

Medicare spent about $500 million on senior citizens’ health care in Alaska last year.

Secrest said AARP will hold an informational session in Juneau next month. The target audience is people who are still working as well as retirees. She said they need to learn about the options Congress is considering for both programs and then tell Congress what they think.

Click for Social Security options.

Click for Medicare options.