POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jul 16, 2011
After spending the week on Capitol Hill, AARP Hawaii officials said they are confident Hawaii's congressional delegation is committed to preserving senior citizens' benefits.
"We felt that our congressional delegates understood the plight of our seniors, and we were heartened by their commitment," Barbara Kim Stanton, AARP Hawaii director, said in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C. "It's a wild situation right now on the Hill, and I hope that other members of Congress are as rational as our Hawaii delegates."
In recent negotiations to reduce the budget deficit and raise the debt ceiling, President Barack Obama said Tuesday that he cannot guarantee that Social Security checks will go out on Aug. 3. Negotiations on balancing the budget often include proposals to cut Social Security and Medicare, the two largest entitlement programs.
"AARP will not accept any cuts to Social Security and Medicare as part of a deal to pay the nation's bills," AARP Hawaii President Stuart Ho said in a news release. "Washington needs to make tough decisions to reduce the deficit, but they should make responsible decisions that don't harm seniors."
Stanton said she and Ho met with all four of Hawaii's congressional delegates: Sens. Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka and Reps. Mazie Hirono and Colleen Hanabusa.
Stanton said Hanabusa is one of 70 members of Congress to sign a letter to Obama urging him to take Social Security and Medicare off the table.
In Hawaii nearly 228,000 people receive Social Security benefits, and 204,000 are Medicare recipients. If retirees do not receive their Social Security checks, 28 percent of Hawaii residents 65 and older will fall below the federal poverty line, said Bruce Bottorff, associate state director of communications for the AARP.
"The president's comment was alarmingly felt in Hawaii," Bottorff said. "It's heart-wrenching to hear so many people worried to have their livelihood taken away."
Since Tuesday the AARP office in Hawaii has received many phone calls from worried seniors, Bottorff said.
Stanton said she and Ho will continue their lobbying for the seniors. "It's a wild time right now, and I'm not saying we can't look at making cuts later, but right now is not the time," she said.