Golden Years a Thing of the Past?

To The Editor: 

Social Security was created in 1935, but it was another 65 years before people at full retirement age could work and collect Social Security benefits at the same time. The change came when President Bill Clinton signed the Senior Citizens’ Freedom to Work Act of 2000. Today, this legislation is a necessity for most senior citizens, because thousands of baby boomers turn 65 on a daily basis and they are faced with many challenges.

Each month seniors are having a hard time making ends meet – and that needs to change. The skyrocketing cost of living forces most seniors to continue working well into their golden years just to survive. Instead of living out these years in peaceful retirement, seniors are being forced to choose between purchasing food, medicine or fuel for their car.

They have taught in our schools, fought our wars, protected our communities, nursed our sick and made countless contributions to our state.

We have a moral responsibility to take care of our elders, which includes protecting funding for vital programs and services such as nutrition programs, transportation, adult day services and quality nursing home care.

Currently, 9.8% of Oklahoma’s seniors are living in poverty, and Oklahoma is eighth in the nation in the number of seniors who have a disability. 

Vice-President Hubert Humphrey once said, “The moral test of government is how we treat those who are in the twilight of their lives.” 

Healthcare costs continue to rise as the baby boomer generation moves into retirement. Medicare and Medicaid costs continue to be a drain on state and federal budgets. Yet, somehow the baby boomer crisis is not becoming a front-page issue. The challenges that retirement creates are unlike any our state and nation has ever faced. For the first time since the end of World War II retiring citizens are faced with a decreasing standard of living.

This year, Oklahoma’s budget does not pay down over a billion dollars of our state debt— nor does it put us on track to be debt-free by the end of this decade. In fact, this year’s budget increases Oklahoma’s debt through increased spending and bond proposals. Several proposed plans concerning the personal income tax will increase deficit spending and raise taxes for most Oklahomans, including senior citizens. Eliminating or cutting the income tax would also create pressure to raise local property taxes and to limit property tax exemptions that benefit senior homeowners. In Texas, property taxes are almost three times higher per capita than in Oklahoma, and as a result, many Texas seniors are forced to sell their homes as they move into retirement, they simply can’t afford the property taxes. 

These income tax proposals also fail to account for major upcoming challenges our state faces. I would prefer a fiscally conservative approach that takes into account the challenges of retiring baby boomers, our crumbling infrastructure and the billions of debt our state owes. If we choose wisely, we can invest in the people of our state and properly take care of our seniors in their time of need. I fear that these pending tax cuts will inevitably lead to record deficit-spending and years of debt passed onto future generations of Oklahomans.

If we act with prudence we can invest more in our future and provide a greater standard of living to those who have worked hard their entire lives. We can bring greater opportunities for prosperity, and not just for senior citizens, but all Oklahomans. 

State Representative James Lockhart

Editor’s Note: A Democrat, James Lockhart lives near Heavener with his family and represents House District 3. 
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