Milwaukee Seniors Discuss Future of Social Security, Medicare

Apr 28, 2015

This year marks notable anniversaries for the country’s entitlement programs for seniors. Medicare turns 50 and Social Security turns 80. 

Federal leaders continue talking about ways to sustain benefits for older Americans because their numbers are growing.

Milwaukee area seniors offered ideas Monday at the Washington Park Senior Center.

Harold Omeig, who’s 70, says his monthly Social Security check from the federal government is all he has.

“I get about $1,200 a month and it’s about $500 shy of what I need," says Omeig, who adds he has to borrow money. "I can’t pay it back either. That’s not good."

Omeig says he had about a dozen different jobs during his working years. “I was in the Air Force, I was in tunnel construction, I was as Kearney & Trecker, I was at JC Penney…," he says.

He says he had a couple of 401Ks, but the money disappeared in stock market disasters.

Omeig is among dozens of retirees sitting at long tables at the Washington Park Senior Center, flipping through handouts about Medicare and Social Security.

Benita Brown says she came because she doesn’t really understand her benefits, such as why she has to pay so many out-of-pocket costs with Medicare.

The 63-year-old says she had a pension from her time working for AT&T, but the money’s gone. "I think that’s where I messed up. I kept going into it. I didn’t have enough income to live on. Now that’s gone, so I’m just on disability," Brown says.

Brown says she’s worried politicians will reduce funding for Social Security. "They may change it. They may cut us. I don’t understand why. That’s why I’m here," she says.

"You don’t attack retirees. You’ve worked 30, 40 years to get this retirement. That’s sacred," says Bob Amsden.

He calls himself one of the lucky few who has had a comfortable retirement. He has a pension and says he was always smart with the money he earned driving trucks for 33 years.

"By saving, doing things right, not buying new cars and letting them sit in the parking lot while you’re gone over the road, paying our house off early...just what you’re supposed to do," he says.

Yet even though he did everything right, Amsden says his retirement income is at risk because of a bill Congress passed last session. It allows multi-employer union pension funds that say they’re in financial trouble to reduce payments to retirees. Some estimates project that payouts could go down 60 percent.

Amsden says it’s not fair.

"What’s gonna happen here is you’ve got people who have no other way of means to supplement that. If they take a 30 percent to 60 percent cut, the economy is going to take a devastating effect in this country. It’s going to be hit so hard," Amsden says.

Billy Feitlinger, executive director of the Wisconsin Alliance for Retired Americans, led Monday's session. His group is advocating for policies that preserve Social Security and make Medicare costs more affordable.

Feitlinger says the group is gathering stories from retirees throughout the state. "With the hope that we are going to take those message and share them with the White House and Congress to let them know there are real people who get affected by their policies that impact them in terms of retirement security," he says.

The White House is planning a conference on aging this fall, coinciding with this year’s anniversaries of Medicare and Social Security.