May 25, 2022
IARA Hosts Older Americans Month 2022
The Illinois Alliance for Retired Americans hosted two great Older Americans Month Townhalls with Congresswoman Lauren Underwood and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky. As part of the event, we awarded these two champions of seniors with the 2022 Alliance for Retired Americans Retiree Hero Award for their flawless voting record during the most recent congressional session.
In addition to our allies in elected office, we were also joined in these two events by our movement partners including the Alliance for Retired Americans, Caring Across Generations, and Citizen Action Illinois.
Watch the recorded videos of the events below, and use this link to join our movement to win retirement dignity & economic security for all: tinyurl.com/iara2022
Illinois Alliance for Retired Americans Celebrates Older Americans Month with Congresswomen Lauren Underwood and Jan Schakowsky.
During Older Americans Month this May, 2022, the Illinois Alliance for Retired Americans (IARA) hosted town halls with Congresswomen Lauren Underwood and Jan Schakowsky. We were joined by movement leaders from the Alliance for Retired Americans, Caring Across Generations, and Citizen Action IL as we presented the Congresswomen with the Retiree Hero Award for their flawless voting records on issues impacting seniors and workers.
During each of the town halls, we had the honor of discussing the challenges and opportunities we are facing in getting our priorities advanced in Congress each of the Congresswomen. We learned how we can push back against threats to Social Security, mobilize together to move our lawmakers to take action to lower the cost of prescription drugs, and protect our social safety nets, and pensions in Illinois through civic action.
Older Americans Month: Aging My Way
The 2022 theme for Older Americans Month was Aging My Way, an opportunity for all of us to explore the many ways older adults can remain in and stay involved with their communities.
IARA President, Don Todd, reminded us that “my way” of aging is different for every individual, but the alliance supports Congresswomen Schakowsky and Underwood, because of their commitment to ensuring retirement and economic security for every American. We honor their flawless voting records on issues that matter most to us–including expansion of Medicare and allowing Medicare to negotiate on prescription drug prices, as well as protecting seniors from scammers, by awarding them with the Retiree Hero Award.
Rich Fiesta, Executive Director for the Alliance for Retired Americans, spoke to all of the great things our retiree heroes, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky and Congresswoman Lauren Underwood have accomplished in the House including passage of the Affordable Insulin Now Act which capped insulin at $35 per month, as well as a bill to allow medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices. While we still have work to do in the senate, these Congresswomen, along with our Illinois Senators, have been vital in the work getting done in the House.
Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky spoke during her town hall to the importance of a powerful movement of senior activists and reminisced upon her time as the Executive Director of the Illinois State Council of Senior Citizens in the 1980’s where she learned from senior citizens how to take on power structures, what grassroots organizing was all about, and being a “gutsy advocate.”
Congresswoman Schkowsky and Congresswoman Underwood on the Issues
One of the most significant issues impacting seniors today is the rising costs of prescription drugs. Janet Kilgus, IARA executive board member, described the challenges she faces when it comes to the out-of-pocket costs for her and her husband’s medications, almost $800 per month!
Congresswoman Underwood applauded the Build Back Better Act that was passed in the House that includes two important provisions that would help families like Janet’s. The first provision Underwood spoke to was the ability for Medicare to negotiate drug prices, and the second a cap on out-of-pocket expenses.
When it comes to prescription drug prices, Congresswoman Schakowsky spoke to the facts–well over 80% of Americans believe the cost for prescription drugs is too high and support allowing Medicare to negotiate drug costs.
“Americans right now pay 2-3x more for the same drugs as other people around the world do… I think we are being treated like a whole country of chumps to have to pay that. We did pass a bill in the House of Representatives–The Build Back Better Bill, that would allow Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices…for all Americans, and to place a $2,000 per year cap on Medicare out-of-pocket costs.”–Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky.
Both Congresswoman Underwood and Congresswoman Schakowsky also discussed the Affordable Insulin Now Act; however, Congresswoman Schakowsky mentioned that while the bill is great for insured people, folks without insurance will fall through the cracks. Congresswoman Schakowsky believes that particular hole in the legislation should be reviewed and fixed. She also reminded us that insulin has been around for decades with little change to the product, yet pharmaceutical companies keep raising the price because of profit driven greed.
Another topic that is weighing heavily on the minds of the Alliance and our members is the attacks on social security. IARA treasurer, Katie Jordan, wanted to know what Congress is doing to advocate for further funding increases for Social Security.
Congresswoman Lauren Underwood, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee was excited to share the success of securing $13.8 billion dollars for the Social Security Administration to be able to grow and expand their services. This budget is $400 million more than previous years.
Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky and Congresswoman Lauren Underwood are also both co-sponsors of Congressman John Larsen’s, Social Security 2100 Bill. Congresswoman Shakoswky gave our town hall attendees the fantastic news that this bill is going to the Ways and Means Committee to create a markup of the bill to create the language of the bill, which we can hopefully expect to see in June of 2022.
Conrad Floeter, a town hall attendee, asked Congresswoman Schakowsky to speak to the repeal of WEP & GPO. He mentioned how many public employees are completely blindsided when they find out that, because of their service as public employees and pensions, their earned social security benefits are slashed, or entirely taken away.
“What we are told is that it is far too expensive to do it [repeal WEP & GPO] , but what the heck does that mean? It is unfair. It is unfair to people who have been in the public sector, teachers, who find out, often at the end of the day when their spouse dies, or they retire, that the money they thought they had earned, by working outside of the public sector, and paying into social security, is not going to be there. Regardless of whatever the cost is, we need to continue to fight for that change.”–Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky.
The Social Security 2100 Act would repeal WEP & GPO.
Congresswoman Schakowsky also spoke to and agreed with the Alliance and Chicago Metro Retiree Member Helen Smith’s, concern over Florida Representative Rick Scott’s bill to undermine social security and Medicare by forcing a funding vote every five years, effectively “sunsetting” the programs.
“These programs cannot be sunsetted. I dare him to try to find a majority, even among the Republicans, who would support this legislation. These programs are cherished by most Americans…These are programs that Americans pay for. Every day, they go to work, they pay for social security and put money into Medicare. These are not handouts. These are earned benefits that people deserve. It’s absolutely shocking that anyone would even consider that because it is so wrong, and so unpopular.”–Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky.
When asked what can we do to make retirement better for people like an alliance member named Nancy who is currently trying to live on a fixed income of less than $1,000 per month, Schakowsky drove home the message that we must get out and vote, and get everyone we know to vote.
“We have legislation that would raise the benefits under social security…but how do we get the votes? We get the votes by electing the people who really will represent us…If you want the change, if you want to live in the country you deserve, you have to get out and vote.”–Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky.
Student Loan Debt
Student loan debt is a topic that many do not realize impacts senior citizens and retirees; however, alliance leaders such as Kim Johnson, were able to share how, even in their retirement, they are paying off student loan debts. Kim graduated in 1999 and is still paying more than $200 per month towards her debt. Congresswoman Schakowsky related, sharing that her office receives calls and messages from seniors frequently about the student loan debt still hanging over their heads.
Congresswoman Schakowsky discussed how student debt exceeds all credit card debt combined, and spoke to the importance of pushing President Biden to act, calling student loan debt in our country a “crisis.” She also mentioned how most people burdened with student debt were unable to finish the degree they went into debt trying to obtain.
“It impedes our country when it comes to competitiveness. Most other industrialized countries do not charge people for higher education. What does that mean? Skilled workforce, expert scientists and teachers, they can afford to go into those important fields of work. Here it impedes that and it really discourages people from going on to higher education. I think this is a matter for our economy and our competitiveness in the world. I am for free college. Free higher education.”–Congresswoman Schakowsky.
During the Q & A portion of Congresswoman Schakowsky’s town hall, one of the IARA’s Directors of Labor, Scott Marshall with SOAR in South Chicago, brought up that reproductive rights matter to seniors. He asked, “One of the most dangerous issues for all of us is the attack on a woman’s right to abortion. Some might wonder why seniors are alarmed by this, we all have daughters and grandchildren that can be greatly harmed by this horrible attack on our rights. Please comment and tell us what we can do to fight back.”
Congresswoman Schakowsky’s response assured us that a “tsunami of opposition is going on right now.” She talked about the rallies she attended and heard about happening across Illinois and Washington D.C. and how the vast majority of Americans do not want to see Roe v. Wade overturned.
“Roe v. Wade was not the beginning of women having abortions, it was the end of women dying from aboritons. Women will die again if we do this. This is going against most Americans…We have to demonstrate, we have support candidates who are pro-choice, who believe in this fundamental right…If you think this Supreme Court is going to stop with Roe V Wade, with access to abortion, you are wrong. They are going to be talking about contraception. They are goign to be talking about same sex marriage. They are going to be talking about many other fundamental rights that are not specifically enumerated in the Constitution of the United States…This is just the beginning of their plan.”–Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky
The Congresswoman also drove home the point that although Illinois has protected abortion rights, not every woman surrounding us will be able to travel here to obtain an arbotion. Low income women will be disproportionately affected by the repeal of Roe V. Wade because they will not have means to travel to access reproductive healthcare. She also reminded everyone of our pro-choice House of Reprensetatives who passed, for the first time in history, the Women’s Health Protection Act, that would codify Roe, which President Biden would sign, although the bill is unlikely to pass the senate with it’s current makeup.
Shanté Wolfe on the Federal Care Agenda
During both of our Older Americans Month town halls we heard from Shanté Wolf of Caring Across Generations, one of our movement partners in the fight for care.
Wolfe updated attendees on the status of the Economic Recovery Plan, also known as Build Back Better, and the Federal care agenda. Wolfe expects funding for home and community based services to come through this bill, but recognized that we might not get the full $100 billion originally proposed. However, compromising will not leave us empty handed, and we will have a deal to move forward with that will not leave us empty handed.
The package will focus on tax code reforms, provisions to lower prescription drug prices, and curbing carbon emissions.
Wolfe also solidified Caring Across Generations commitment to getting out the vote in the upcoming election, abolishing the filibuster, and codifying Roe, especially in the face of debates about repealing or protecting Roe v. Wade, and working with care partners such as Illinois Alliance for Retired Americans.
What Can We Do?
When we are facing private corporate interests who are investing billions of dollars to keep prescription costs high, privatize Medicare, and sunset social security and Medicare completely, our most powerful tool is our stories.
Maureen Dunn, Field Director for the Alliance for Retired Americans said, “Our stories make a difference. Our stories break through the narrative those corporate interests would have us believe.
Dunn talked about how each of us has stories that the alliance wants to hear. Our millions of members across the country can have their voices and stories heard by the alliance and then amplified out to our elected officials and voters.
If you would like to share your story with the alliance, you can fill out this form at https://retiredamericans.org/stories/ and tell your story electronically.
If you would like to tell your story to one of our organizers in Illinois, fill out this contact form: Tinyurl.com/IARA2022
We also heard from William McNary of Citizen Action who called upon us to join him in the movement to take on big pharma, to call on our elected officials to stop supporting drug profits over constituents, to make lowering drug prices a key issue in the 2022 elections.
“No matter where people live or what they look like, no matter what’s in their wallet, at some point everybody is going to get sick and need prescription medicine to feel better. Whether it’s a sore throat, or high blood pressure, or cancer, everybody deserves affordable medicine to be able to live healthy lives. But today, drug companies and their powerful lobbyists are standing in the way of our health security and our economic security by jacking up prices to boost profits. By forcing people to choose between medicine or basic necessities; to go without treatment, or go into debt or watch their loved ones without the drugs that they need to get better.
It is time to fix this broken system. We are gathered here today to send a message to the President, the Congress, and the drug companies–It is time to stop the tweaks, it is time to stop the half-measures, it is time to stop passing the buck. That will not lower drug prices. We need policies that will hold drug companies accountable to making medicines affordable, and take away a company’s power to put profits above people’s health”–William McNary
McNary also reminded us, “if we don’t do politics, politics is going to do us.” He spoke to the billionaire interest groups such as Ken Griffin and his rich friends who are investing millions in candidates, rather than paying their fair share in taxes. Candidates funded by anti-worker billionaires will put our pensions, Social Security, Medicare, worker’s rights, and fundamental human rights, at risk.
Illinois is facing two contested Illinois Supreme Court races in the 2nd and 3rd District that will impact the entire state–. McNary wants us to remember that we elect our Supreme Court Justices in Illinois. The seats are not appointed by the Governor. Electing pro-worker Justices is vital to protecting our pensions and social safety nets.
McNary closed out our town halls by saying:
“Seniors, I’m asking you to keep doing what you’re doing, but step it up a notch. Because you have vision, you’ve seen some things. You have wisdom, you know some things. And you have experience, because you’ve been through some things. We can not only make a difference, we have a responsibility to move forward. If we are united and our message is clear and we get the vote out, organized people can still beat organized money, if we are organized enough.”
If you are interested in Joining the Illinois Alliance for Retired Americans in our fight for justice, retirement with dignity, and economic security for every worker, you can become a member here: