EDITORIAL: Improve living standards of South Florida’s seniors

first_imgAnother political season has descended upon Florida. In South Florida candidates are actively campaigning for a variety of federal, state, county, and city offices. Every candidate hopes voters will select him or her in the August 28 primary elections to advance to the November 6 general elections ballot.While the candidates promise to provide several benefits to voters, making them contented citizens, they should be aware the needs of most voters are basically simple. They need jobs, and be able to feed, clothe, house, educate, provide healthcare, for themselves and their families living in safe communities, free of debt, especially in their senior years. Most of the candidates say they intend to  provide these benefits, but in recent election cycles when one assess the campaign promises few candidates seem to plan on solving challenges faced by senior citizens in the community.Recently, local TV reports featured a female senior citizen whose sole monthly income is some $900.  After paying her rent/mortgage and utility she’s left with a few dollars for food and other necessities.Gillum cites need to help seniorsIt was refreshing, and with some hope, that Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a Democratic candidate seeking to succeed Rick Scott as Florida’s first African-American governor, drew attention to the plight of seniors while campaigning in Miami Grdens last week.Fittingly, Gillum told supporters at a campaign stop, “Seniors should be able to retire with dignity and not have to choose one expense over the other – a meal over a prescription or housing rent.”Dire situationThe plight of senior citizens, over age 65, is particularly dire in South Florida’s Caribbean American community. Most of these first-generation individuals came to the US approaching, or in their middle years (30 to 45 years). Their early years as migrants were spent settling in jobs, acquiring assets like houses, and not much, if anything, was allocated to retirement benefits.Seniors strapped with mortgages A recent study conducted among South Florida’s immigrant community indicated the majority (59 percent) of retires are still burdened with mortgages on houses they purchased between ages 42 to 46. It was also indicated that the majority of these immigrant homeowners, including Caribbean Americans contracted 30-year mortgages. This means these homeowners would be strapped with mortgage payments at age 72 to 76, well into their senior years. Moreover, compounding this problem, is many middle-age homeowners extended the mortgage years by taking out home-equity loans. It’s not unheard of for seniors in their late 70s and 80s to be burdened with huge mortgage paymentsThe decision for aging individuals to assume long-term mortgages is unwise. But, few listen to wise advice when their dream is to own a home. Neither, do lenders restrict loans to younger borrowers.Dependency on Social SecurityWithin the Caribbean community there’s a significant percentage of retired residents who no longer earn incomes previously accustomed to. Most of these people depend entirely on Social Security benefits, which average in most cases, less than 50 percent of their previous  incomes. Those who were fortunate to acquire retirement plans may not be as pressured financially in their senior years, but these individuals are the minority.There are several situations, as alluded to by Gillum, where seniors who contributed to the American economy in various careers, are having genuine financial difficulties finding funds for life’s basic inescapable necessities because their retirement earnings are insufficient. Most of these people are on Medicare, as well as Social Security, but their limited income can only stretch so far.Small increase in Social Security benefitsSocial Security benefits have increased by an average of only 2.5 percent in recent years. And, interestingly, whenever an increase is granted, invariably Medicare payments, normally deducted from Social Security benefits, also increase and absorb the SS increase. The government uses a formula to increase Social Security payments based on the annual national cost of living (COL) index. This index has remained relatively low, as the economy rebounds. It has been argued persistently that tagging Social Security increases to the COL index is unfair to seniors since their incomes have contracted, enhancing their COL. Several politicians campaigning for Congress have promised significant increase in SS benefits. But these were promises soon forgotten.Others seeking seats in the Florida Legislature have also promised to seek legislation to provide new benefits to seniors. Mainly, these also have been empty promises.IntolerableIt’s intolerable for a large percentage of Americans to be living at, or below, subsistence levels in their senior years. Those seeking to represent seniors at federal and state levels must be alert to the dire needs of this community. They must be committed to take action to alleviate the community’s financial plight, statewide and nationally.  This issue is no less important than immigration reform, jobs, affordable healthcare and education.last_img

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