“You shall rise up before the grayheaded and honor the aged, and you shall revere your God; I am the LORD.” Leviticus 19:32
I’m now one of the gray headed, mentioned in the book of Leviticus, but long before as a newly ordained minister I was offered the option of exempting myself from Social Security if I was conscientiously opposed to the program. I wasn’t. I’ve made payments since I worked for the United States Post Office delivering Special Delivery mail on my bicycle. That was 1961. Ever since, I and my employer have each paid 6.2% of my wage into my account.
As a “grayheaded” I now receive a Social Security check monthly. It’s modest, but it does give me security in my old age. I’m also enrolled in Medicare, a health insurance program for people 65 and older covering many medical expenses including hospitalization, should it be needed. Since 1966 I’ve been paying premiums to Medicare.
In 1935 Franklin Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act creating our public pension system. A year later, Kansas Governor Alf Landon, running against Roosevelt for the presidency, claimed Social Security had deep structural problems and called for its repeal.
In 1965 Lyndon Johnson signed the Social Security Act Amendments creating Medicaid and Medicare. Anticipating its passage, Senator Barry Goldwater, campaigning against LBJ for the presidency, quipped, “Having given our pensioners their medical care in kind, why not food baskets, why not public housing accommodations, why not vacation resorts, why not a ration of cigarettes for those who smoke and of beer for those who drink?” (Bill Moyers, Listening to America, Oct 1, 2013)
Senator Strom Thurmond (R-SC) was opposed to Medicaid and Medicare, reasoning, “You had [the poor] back in the days of Jesus Christ, you have got some now, and you will have some in the future.” Another Senator (Alan Simpson) referred to those wanting more from Social Security as “greedy geezers.” Yikes.
Some refer to my Social Security check and Medicare insurance as “entitlements.” But I prefer calling both benefits or returns on my insurance policy. After all, I’ve been faithfully making premium payments for decades.
Some claim Social Security is near bankruptcy, that it cannot sustain itself and must be scaled back or privatized. But my premiums have been invested, as required by law in “interest-bearing Treasury obligations or in entities whose principal and interest are guaranteed by the United States.” (Nancy J. Altman) and according to the “Office of the Chief Actuary of the Social Security Administration, as of December 31, 2016, Social Security had excess revenue from current and past surpluses of about $2.848 trillion” (ibid). Social Security funds are as safe as is the United States Government. Social Security will default if the United States Treasury defaults. I’m not worried for myself.
But I am worried. I’m worried about the young Sunday School children we blessed in church this past Sunday. I am worried about the students in our Confirmation class. I’m worried about their young parents. Will the Social Security bequeathed to me provide security when today’s children are grayheaded?
In thanksgiving to those who bequeathed me a Social Security program, it is my responsibility to assure the young children at Lutheran Church of the Master will be blessed as I have been blessed. I want for them a social security program that will fulfill President Roosevelt’s intent declared in his State of the Union Address on January 11, 1944. “ …the right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment.” Let’s not cut Social Security, let’s expand it so every American, every child we blessed this past Sunday can someday retire in dignity.
“Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent.” Psalm 71:9