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With a little courage, we can fix Social Security problems

For Granite Staters, Social Security has much in common with blankets and shovels. None of these three items are particularly alluring (except maybe for shovel collectors), but everyone is happy to have a shovel when the snow flies, a blanket when the power dies and a Social Security check when expected.

Social Security is a pleasant paradox. It’s a big problem and a little problem, a big assurance and a little piece of mind. It is also a math problem – a big one for the nation and smaller one for the 68,000 people in New Hampshire who rely upon Social Security for a good part of their income. Like any math problem, it can be solved.

Social Security isn’t sexy, but it’s essential and "blankets" our entire state. It’s not something that Granite Staters should ignore any more than staying warm or shoveling snow. With only 80 days until we elect our next leaders, Social Security should demand some real media attention, serious discussion from candidates and thoughtful conversations from New Hampshire voters of all ages, abilities, and economic situations.

Back to the "little" math: The average Social Security benefit for Granite Staters is around $1300 per month. Men earn a bit more, women a bit less. If our leaders don’t act soon, benefits could be cut by 25 percent in 2034, which translates to a $4,000 to $10,000 cut in benefits. Each year! Loss of this income will present a series of tough choices. With a 25 percent cut, AARP calculates that 11,600 of our friends, family and neighbors will slip into poverty. The rest will need to think about how losing $4,000 per year would affect the $8,500 Granite Staters spend on food, the $5,800 they spend on utilities, or the $9,100 they spend on health care. If our leaders act now, these tough choices can be prevented. The updating Social Security alarm has sounded and we now have a chance to do something about it.

Now for the "big" math: In New Hampshire, Social Security (2014 AARP fact sheet) amounted for $6.6 billion in economic output. That went to rent, food, entertainment, utilities, health care, insurance, property taxes and more. It was spent everywhere in our economy. In New Hampshire, one in five – and nearly all of those 65-plus – receives Social Security. For three out of 10, it is their only source of income and keeps 68,000 out of poverty.

About 271,000 take their benefits and spend it in our communities. And everybody benefits. As a comparison, New Hampshire’s entire two-year budget was $11.5 billion, so we can see these are big, important numbers for all of us to consider. What would the loss of up to one-quarter of that do to our economy? Tough choices.

We can fix this problem. We can update Social Security with the will and courage of our elected officials. AARP New Hampshire is calling on our next president – and those who will represent us in Washington – to support and to act on meaningful reforms.

We can’t hope, ignore or will away a nor’easter, the ice on our roadways or the devastation of an ice storm. But we all know how much better we do by taking early action. Cutting away branches and dead trees from power lines before the storm hits makes it less likely we’ll lose power. We locate our candles, shovels and blankets early, not in the cold and dark with the wind howling outside. Planning now to update Social Security to avoid a 25 percent cut in 2034 makes the same kind of sense.

We’ve got about 80 days until Election Day. We must insist that Social Security be discussed and addressed by the media, candidates and the voters. The time is now. Doing nothing for Social Security – the bedrock of financial security – is not an option.

Todd Fahey is state director of AARP New Hampshire, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization with an estimated 231,000 members in the Granite State.