March 10, 2010

Whitehouse Urges Extra Help for Seniors

Providence Resident’s Story Highlights Need for Additional Support

Washington, D.C. – In a Senate speech, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) yesterday urged his colleagues to provide additional support for America’s seniors during these tough times. Whitehouse cited stories from Rhode Island seniors struggling to make ends meet in the face of rising costs, including one Providence resident who has to stretch her $500 per month income to cover daily prescription drug costs, food, heating and other daily expenses.

Last week, the Senate failed to approve an amendment to the jobs bill cosponsored by Whitehouse that would have paid an extra $250 to Social Security beneficiaries. “The payment would provide added relief for the millions of older Americans who, for the first time since 1975, did not receive a cost-of-living adjustment in their Social Security benefits. Without some extra help, these beneficiaries are hard-pressed to make ends meet,” Whitehouse said in today’s speech.

Similar payments were provided to seniors in each of the last two years to help them weather the storm of the recession. In 2008, Whitehouse successfully pushed for Social Security recipients to be included in legislation that provided rebate checks, starting at $300, to low- and middle-income Americans. In 2009, Whitehouse asked Senate leaders to consider a temporary increase in Social Security benefits as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Seniors were awarded one-time payments of $250 as part of that legislation.

The full text of Whitehouse’s speech is below:


Mr. WHITEHOUSE. As I’ve traveled throughout Rhode Island, I have heard from countless constituents about the sacrifices they’ve made during these difficult economic times. Many of my constituents have adjusted to the economic climate by cutting back on extras and finding savings where they can.

For seniors living on a limited budget, however, simply cutting back is not an option. I’ve heard from seniors who have turned off the heat in their homes because oil prices are so high. I’ve heard from others who are splitting pills and skipping doses because they cannot afford to refill a prescription. These are seniors who have worked hard their whole lives, paid into the system, and believed that they would be able to grow old comfortably. Instead, many are barely scraping by on Social Security benefits that no longer cover their daily living expenses.

Last Wednesday, the Senate had the opportunity to provide some extra help for seniors, veterans, and individuals with disabilities who rely on Social Security. We voted on an amendment offered by Senator Sanders, which I cosponsored, that would have provided an extra $250 payment to Social Security beneficiaries. The payment would have been an extension of the financial assistance I successfully fought for as part of the economic recovery package last year, and these funds would plow right through into our economy to help further stimulate demand and economic recovery. Unfortunately, this year, the amendment failed to receive enough votes for passage.

Although a $250 payment may not sound like much to some, for those on a limited budget the extra financial assistance provides peace of mind amid skyrocketing health care and prescription drug costs. The payment would provide added relief for the millions of older Americans who, for the first time since 1975, did not receive a cost-of-living adjustment in their Social Security benefits. Without some extra help, these beneficiaries are hard-pressed to make ends meet.

Just ask Jackie, a North Smithfield resident, who has seen her health insurance premiums increase by double digits this past year and the cost of her prescription drugs continue to rise. At a time when every penny counts, Jackie says the winter months are particularly hard for her. When Jackie hears the oil truck drive by, she cringes knowing that the cost of heating her home is another bill she simply cannot afford.

I also heard from Edward, a senior living in Warren, who is worried how he will make ends meet without the increase in his Social Security benefit. In recent months, he’s seen his car and home insurance increase by $200, and other daily living costs such as heating oil, gas, and groceries, rise significantly. In these tough times, Edward could just use a little help. He writes, “I just don’t understand why Congress cannot do something to help seniors at least maintain a status quo.”

Linda, a Rhode Islander from Providence, survives on only $500 a month. Like so many older Americans, Linda takes multiple prescriptions every day. The out-of-pocket costs for her prescriptions add up, even on Medicare. Between her medical costs, food, heating and other daily expenses she can barely make ends meet. Linda would welcome any financial assistance she can get, so that she can save for copayments for visits to the doctor which she knows she will soon need. Linda says she is disappointed that the Senate does not realize how desperately seniors need added financial help.

Like Linda, I am disappointed by the vote this past Wednesday. My colleagues failed to act on an opportunity to help our seniors when they need it the most; at a time when just a little help would go a long way.

For Jackie, Edward, and Linda, and seniors across our country facing similar challenges, I will continue fighting to assist older Americans during these difficult economic times. I urge my colleagues join me in standing by our nation’s seniors.


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